Out magician Michael Carbonaro returns to North Texas with his mind-bending sleights of hand

JONANNA WIDNER | Contributing Writer
[email protected]

Michael Carbonaro thinks a lot about the nature of reality. But, ya know, not in a pretentious way.

In fact, the openly gay 42-year-old magician — who you might know from his hidden camera “Magic Clerks” segments on The Tonight Show, or his TruTV series The Carbonaro Effect (also streaming on Netflix) — is quite the opposite from pretentious. Friendly and open, he’s happy to talk about his history, his TV fame, his philosophy of performing. It’s just that, during our recent telephone interview in advance of his upcoming live show at the Majestic Theater, he had some interesting things to say about why magic is so bewitching.

“There is something about magic that charges us up because we think we know how the world operates,” he says. “And when you see something that looks impossible occur, it’s like a little window into a trap door in the universe. And you go, ‘Oh my gosh — I didn’t know the universe could work that way!”

Maybe it’s that love of the other side of the mirror, combined with his natural charisma, that makes Carbonaro’s artistry so engaging. During his live shows, the still-boyish wizard is impish and fun, devoid of the air of self-important cheesiness of, say, David Copperfield (who was Carbonaro’s hero growing up) — he’s both genuine and funny. The audience is along for the ride.

Contrast that with his television persona. On The Carbonaro Effect, he and a team of writers come up with an endless supply of hidden camera pranks, each more inventive than the next. One minute, he’s pretending to be a research assistant who accidentally releases alien spiders from a rock recovered from a meteor site; the next, he’s portraying a bro-ish ski shop employe who manages to pull hundreds of pounds of equipment from a tiny backpack, to the amazement of his customers. Both are about fooling the eye… but in one case, the audience knows what it’s getting into. In the other, it’s as if the quantum world has been turned upside down.

Originally, Carbonaro thought he and his team could pull off about 10 episodes’ worth of tricks and gimmicks; now in its fourth season, the show has hit about 100.

“There’s just something about magicians and their trickster spirits,” he says when explaining how they’ve come up with so many ways to blow people’s minds. “We just get in a room and riff, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to try and ship a bowling ball in a flat package?’”

Carbonaro, who met his husband on set on a TV production, says that trickster spirit, that attraction to how things aren’t, that ties the LGBTQ community to magic.

“Growing up gay, there was the concept of being shown the very heterocentric world where people have a wife, and then they have kids and then they get married, and that’s just what they do,” he says.

“But there’s an amazing amount of freedom to saying, ‘Actually, no that’s not what I want to do,’” he says.

“It’s like what I was saying about magic — the world doesn’t necessarily operate the way that we all assume. And I think that’s very exciting,” he says, a final bit of impish glee in his voice. “I think that’s a charge.”