He might be rushing to make a flight, but Michael Carbonaro talks with a charm that makes you think you have all the time in the world. The magician and prankster of tru TV’s The Carbonaro Effect has quite a following for his elaborate illusions hoodwinking an unsuspecting public—often ridiculous products or inventions that make jaws drop. We caught up with the openly gay, Long Island-born trickster about coming up with stunts, a new wig collection, and if magic ever helped him get a hot date.
Out: So the second season is airing now. You’re working on the third season. How do you keep the ideas fresh?
Michael Carbonaro: Everything is so fast-paced. We experiment with every episode. We never know if something is going to work or not. I think that’s what keeps everything fresh and new. We go into it really open and unsure, and it’s that energy that pulls me and the team together.
Has there ever been a prank where you broke character?
Oh yeah. We did one episode with this juicer, and the orange just exploded on the first try. I played it off, and I tried to say, “Oh that always happens on the first one.” But then I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. I think we’ll be airing that take in a special later. Every time I rewatch an episode, though, I wonder how I kept myself from cracking up the whole time.
Now that more people know the show, you’ve started using disguises. What’s your closet looking like these days?
I have wigs everywhere now. And tons of uniforms. Construction vests, hardhats, you name it. The disguises don’t require much. If you have a name tag and a uniform, people tend to trust you.
What’s the best prank someone has ever pulled on you?
What’s funny is that I’m so gullible. I have plenty of magician friends who pull stuff on me all the time. I mean, if they levitate a car, obviously I’m not going to fall for that. But I’ll get a call at the hotel saying the police need to search my luggage because I keep flash paper or some other magic prop in there. And I totally freak out.
Has magic ever helped you get a date with a cute guy?
Honestly, if it weren’t for hypnotism, I probably would have never lost my virginity. [Laughs] I’m kidding, of course, that comes off a little creepy. It really depends. Magic can come across as kind of geeky. But it’s still very mystical. People really get into it. They’re still always asking, “How did you do that?” So it’s that kind of wonder that hooks people.
What’s your favorite magical movie or TV show?
I’ve got to say Time Bandits. I remember watching that on VHS and just falling in love with the story, the universe. I still have a map of the fantasy setting framed at my house. I don’t know if I’m dating myself with that—or if your readers will even know what I’m talking about. [Laughs]
Speaking of movie magic, are you a Harry Potter fan? Do you know which Hogwarts house you'd be in?
You know, I never actually saw the movies. Or read the books. That all just missed me. I maybe got 15 minutes into the first one and just never got hooked. Sorry!
Are there any fake products on your show that you wish existed in real life?
We had this automatic kenneling machine where we fooled people into thinking it safely flattened dogs into this disc-like package. I think that would be super convenient for travel. Why stop at dogs, too? Crying babies on the airplane? Now that would be helpful.
Any favorite reality shows that you’re watching?
I love RuPaul’s Drag Race! But don’t spoil it. I haven’t caught up yet! That’s a form of magic right there—the looks and the illusions the queens create. I would love to see a drag magic show with assistants and everything. Can you imagine?
You pull great pranks on regular, unsuspecting people. What about a celebrity?
We had Shaquille O’Neal on the show this season, and he was fantastic. He was actually in on the prank with me. But me and the team couldn’t help pranking him at least once while he was on set. He was shocked and laughing with the rest of us. He was such a good sport.
Watch The Carbonaro Effect on tru TV Wednesdays at 10 p.m./9p.m. Central.