Magician Michael Carbonaro, of the hidden-camera prank show “The Carbonaro Effect,” knows the perfect way to trick New Yorkers: Get ’em while they’re riding the subway.
The New York-born television prankster is known for convincing people they’re seeing the impossible, like a piece of paper that can make telephone calls. The unsuspecting victims of his tricks are typically in Chicago, where he filmed the upcoming season of “The Carbonaro Effect,” premiering Thursday at 10 p.m. on truTV.
But, if he were to get the chance to bring his show to NYC, he knows exactly the prank he’d like to pull.
“I would love to be able to perform a trick on the subway,” Carbonaro, 42, says. “I think the reactions from New Yorkers on the subway platform and on a moving train would be unlike anything from anywhere else.”
How would it work? Well, a good magician never tells, but Carbonaro did tease a bit about the dream joke. Mostly, it would involve “silent, magically vignettes” that’d require riders to simply sit back and watch him “being a nutjob.”
“A lot of my show depends on talking, but I think with New York it would be so cool to just watch the expressions because New Yorkers faces tell a million stories without ever having to say something,” he explains.
He admits tricking New Yorkers may prove a bit more challenging than spoofing residents of Georgia (where he filmed seasons one and two) and Chicago (seasons three and four).
“I’m a New Yorker, and I designed each of these so I’d believe in them to some degree,” he says. “Chicago has been a bit tougher than Georgia. Chicago, they’re like ‘come on, come on, get to it,’ a little more of the New York vibe. I think New Yorkers would be tough because they’d be fast like that, but what I do know is similar to Chicago.”
But there could be a plus-side to pranking around New York City: “I think there’d be a lot of swearing, which always makes for a really fun take when there’s all those bleeps,” he adds.
Below, Carbonaro gives us a bit of his backstory and clues us into what’s expected this season.
At what point did you know a career in television, and pranking, was right for you?
The day that I knew, I had just gotten my outfit for show choir. I came home and I was maybe more thrilled about the sparkly bow tie than anybody should be. I put on the outfit and was showing my mom some of the dance moves and she was like, “OK, you are a born entertainer.” I remember not knowing what she meant. Like, what did she just realize right now that I don’t know — though she probably realized I was gay as well — but anyway that always stuck with me because at the core of it all that’s what it was about.
Tell us about the first prank you ever pulled on someone.
One of the first pranks — there was no magic involved — but it was a prank involving special effects. A friend who was my magic assistant in high school on Long Island, she was terrified of aliens … being the little devil I am, I created these puppet heads of aliens, sculpted and painted them and myself and my friend Brian hid outside a minivan outside her house… She went outside at 6 p.m. and I popped up these alien heads from behind the van. The reaction was so intense. It was a little mean-spirited … she fell to the ground in total paralyzing fear. She’s still a friend, so don’t worry about that.
What can we expect from the new season?
Oh my gosh. We’ve gone mad. The show literally drives me insane it takes so much work and so much beautiful energy that literally it’s all I think about. I think I’m like Vincent van Gogh just slowly driving myself crazy. But that makes the show better. This season is insane. We have alien encounters, full-on Steven Spielberg moments of shooting lasers and lightning exploding, people turning into scarecrows. And also all of the classic smaller, simpler stuff too. I feel like I’m some kind of Willy Wonka for the everyman.
How do you come up with these wacky ideas?
I have an incredible team of magicians. It takes a specific kind of mind, to be a magician, a kind of warped mind. Buddies of mine that I’ve known since a kid going to magic camp, these are the people when I wanted to put the show together I was like I gotta call those wack jobs. They’re awesome. They’re super geniuses. There’s five of us, so we just come up with what we can do or more importantly what we can’t do and figure out how to do it.