The Carbonaro Effect: Magician Michael Carbonaro Tells Us How He Does It


Stuart Pettican/truTV

If one day you find yourself experiencing double vision, or seeing creatures from outer space, or watching a man squeeze a carton of juice out of a single orange, you may be having a breakdown. Or you may be experiencing The Carbonaro Effect. It’s a rare condition that occurs when you encounter Michael Carbonaro and his hidden television crew performing magic for his truTV show. But unlike most magicians, Michael doesn’t let you know he’s performing or that you’re watching a magic illusion take place– you think it’s real. And that’s what makes his show, The Carbonaro Effect, so much fun.

The basic concept behind the show is not new.  If you’re old enough or nostalgic enough to remember Candid Camera, or any of the prank based shows that have aired since, then you already know it’s fun watching unsuspecting people get fooled into believing insane things. But Candid Camera pulled straight up pranks, and the viewer at home knew how it was all happening.  On The Carbonaro Effect Michael fools unsuspecting people into believing the unbelievable with his own sleight of hand and close up magic, and we at home have no idea how he did it.

The season two opener airs tonight, Wednesday July 29th, and in one segment, Carbonaro posed as a market stall vendor selling a miraculous juicer.  Sounds ordinary, until Michael gets a pitcher full of juice out of a single orange just by popping a small spout in the orange and squeezing it.  Shoppers are absolutely floored.  The trick is great, the reactions, amazing, and it all escalates from there.


I had this love hate relationship with magic; magic can sometimes be a bad word. A lot of people think of their dumb uncle or some stupid clown that they saw. They don’t really know that magic can be super skilled and super wonderful.

We talked with Michael to find out how he connected with magic, and how he pulls off these amazing magical pranks every week.  Carbonaro’s love of magic goes way back.  As a kid he went to Tannen’s Magic Camp, and worked his way through college by performing private magic parties every weekend.  While at NYU, he added performance and stand up skills, and considered pursuing acting full-time because of what he called a ‘complicated’ relationship with magic. “I had this love hate relationship with magic; magic can sometimes be a bad word,” he said, adding, “a lot of people– they think of their dumb uncle or some stupid clown that they saw. They don’t really know that magic can be super skilled and super wonderful.”  But moving to Los Angeles actually inspired and enhanced his love of the art.  “There’s so much variety art going on in LA that I just think people are hungry for it.  There’s tons of live performance. From the Magic Castle and friends I’ve made there I’m absolutely performing more magic than I ever have.”

The Carbonaro Effect gives Michael the chance to combine all three of his interests– acting, comedy, and magic– to convince unsuspecting people, that impossible things have just happened.

It’s not easy to pull off.  There’s no scripting or fake marks here.  Every single person who they fool in the show is 100% unsuspecting, he told us.  They also aren’t shooting dozens of versions of each trick and cherry picking the best reactions. “I wish I could try each one a lot,” he told us, “but we have to shoot 13 episodes in 10 weeks time. That’s like a hundred and forty-something brand new tricks that we’ve come up with that we have to figure out how to do and shoot right away.  So it’s madness. And part of the fun is that ring of fire.”   The juicer trick shown above, for example, was only shot twice.

Carbonaro aims for what he calls “The Perfect Triad” for each segment.  He explained that “if the trick is really great, the silly story that I tell along with it is really great, and the person that I am lucky enough to have wander into this scenario is also an awesome person; if those three things are lined up, it’s golden.”

Element One: The Trick

The trick itself has to be great, even when it’s a simple trick, which it often is.  “It always returns to basic principles of magic,” Carbonaro said.  Many of his illusions are based off what he calls magic 101, sleight of hand.  Redressing sleight of hand tricks, like the familiar cup and ball trick are a big part of the show.

“I have a great friend who has actually helped me with a lot of The Carbonaro Effect, his name is Handsome Jack,” he explained, “and he went on Penn & Teller: Fool Us, and he fooled them. . . And how he fooled Penn & Teller? He fooled them with “101 sleight of hand” lesson.  And when you go back and look at it you’re like, ‘oh he just did that!” It’s just a testament that these secrets stacked correctly and buried in different places always work. They always work!”

Element Two: The Story

The story is as important as the magic is for the show. In order to get the best reactions from his ‘marks’, Michael has to set up exactly the right situation, because he’s not just trying to pull off the trick, he also needs to convince them that it’s real.  That’s where the perfect story comes in.  In the first episode this year, when Michael convinces various people that they are witnessing a miracle product, or an alien life form, or that animals burrow into produce, the story becomes absolutely critical to get the reaction he is looking for.

Element Three: The Reaction

But it’s the reaction that Carbonaro says is the true star of the show. “What I think is at the heart of [the show] is the joy of watching people react to bizarre situations,” he said. “I could be great, but the reaction is the super star.”  In the season opener Carbonaro convinces a woman she is seeing an alien life form. He knew the trick would be good, but until he watched the footage, he had no idea how great the segment would be.  “I didn’t really take it in until I watched the footage later, and I thought oh my god this woman is breaking out of her mind and going crazy!  She’s crying, she’s tap dancing, she’s heaving.  It was great!” And that, he modestly says, is all her.

reaction shot 2

And What About the Cameras?

There is one more element to the show, and that’s the cameras.  “As a magician and a special effects artist and an all around liar,” Carbonaro said, “it’s a very difficult and layered complicated equation to figure out how to hide cameras in an environment, shoot something with a real person and fool them, and then be able to show the home viewer that experience without showing them how the trick works.”  When you perform on stage, he explained, the audience is facing you. But in The Carbonaro Effect, the cameras never get that front shot of seeing exactly what an in-person audience would see.

And then there’s another issue.  Because they’re using multiple cameras, he said, there are times where every single camera is actually showing how the trick works. And although he doesn’t think it would hurt the show if the viewers knew how he was doing the trick, he still wants to keep the element of magic present. “The game for me is for the viewer to experience it too; to be surprised, baffled, to keep the secret of what’s about to happen down to the last second and then you can also laugh at how the person reacts.”

The combination works brilliantly and season one was a big hit, but Carbonaro assures that season two is going to take things to a new level.  “When I first got together with truTv and Simon Fields I had these big ideas that I wanted to do, and they said, ‘well let’s wait on that’ so in this season there are a lot of those dreams that have come true. I’ve got a riff on the fountain of youth, on a 3D printer, and not only did we do it, we actually won it.  It’s just spectacular.”

Season Two of The Carbonaro Effect starts Wednesday July 29 at 10pm ET/PT on truTV.

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