The Hollywood Reporter’s frequent roundtables provide an opportunity for Hollywood’s elite to exchange ideas, experiences, opinions, and occasional war stories, all while wearing nice clothes and being photographed in a flattering way. They’re like the ideal combination of a group therapy session and a fashion shoot. The latest, moderated by television editor Lacey Rose, gathers seven of the top comedic actors on television to talk about their craft: Aziz Ansari (Master Of None), Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent), Rob Lowe (The Grinder, RIP), Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele), Anthony Anderson (Black-ish), Jerrod Carmichael (The Carmichael Show), and Tony Hale (Veep). Although these men make their livings telling jokes, the conversation is, for the most part, rather earnest and sincere. Rose kicks things off by asking the actors what they did with that first big showbiz paycheck. Lowe decided to upgrade from a Mazda to a Porsche. Key splurged by going out to eat twice in one week.
The conversation moves on to weightier topics, including the portrayal of minority characters and the importance of tackling controversial issues through comedy. Carmichael, for instance, talks about an episode of The Carmichael Show that dealt with the Bill Cosby allegations: “It was the most legal-notes session that I’ve encountered. But not doing it wasn’t an option.”
This gab session isn’t entirely devoted to serious subjects. Rose declares her desire to “end on a lighter note,” so she asks the actors about their most humiliating showbiz debacles. Early in his career, Anderson unwisely decided to heckle every comic at an open mic night before performing. By then, the audience was so hostile that he lasted less than a minute on stage. Tambor, suffering from the flu, actually shat himself while doing repertory theater in Detroit in the ’60s. The actors all have their tales of woe, but Lowe is confident he has a “royal flush”: He participated in the infamous opening musical number at the 1989 Oscar telecast.
He describes the ordeal with glee, savoring each embarrassing and surreal detail, including a post-performance meeting with Lucille Ball. “That’s what’s great about hanging out with Rob,” says Ansari. “His Hollywood stories are all like, ‘And I look in there, and it’s Lucille Ball.’ My stories are like, ‘And I look in there, and it’s Mario Lopez!’”