Rob Lowe, 52, and Aziz Ansari, 33, shared screen time during the later seasons of Parks and Recreation. Jeffrey Tambor, 71, and Tony Hale, 45, worked together for several years on Arrested Development. And Anthony Anderson, 45, tried to recruit Keegan-Michael Key, 45, to join him in a recurring role on Black-ish. But never have all six, plus sitcom newcomer Jerrod Carmichael, 29, sat together — until THR gathered them for a frank and often hilarious conversation about their comedic inspira tions, their lowest points as performers (spoiler: Tambor once fouled himself) and the compulsion to weave more powerful themes — including instances of police brutality or the allegations against onetime legend Bill Cosby — into their comedy.
There was a point for each of you in your career when you got your first real paycheck and thought, “I’ve arrived.” And then at least a few of you went out and spent that money immediately. Let’s hear your best stories.
ANSARI As soon as I heard 20 minutes, I got terrified.
CARMICHAEL Any performance that starts at “shibbidy doo, blah blah blah” is terrifying.
KEY Jordan has done one stand-up gig in his life, right? I’ve done none. What do I know? I’m a classically trained actor — learn the lines, right? So we walk onstage, and it was the first time in my career where I was like, “You guys ever think about …” and [we hear] “Boo!” Then it starts rolling back. By minute six, there are like 800 people going, “Come on, guys,” and seas of rolling boos. And I look over at Jordan, and we always end our set when we do shows at colleges with a song. So we’re six minutes in, and I’m trying to tell the most ribald jokes I can think of. And I got decidedly black, like, “Yo, when you in prison and someone tryin‘ to rape you …” Nope, that didn’t work. And Jordan looks at me and goes, “Keegs?” I’m like, “Hmm, yeah?” Flop sweat. He goes, “You wanna sing a song?” We were onstage for nine minutes. It was sublimely horrible.
TAMBOR You still good, Rob?
LOWE Yep, still think I got a royal flush. (Laughter.)
ANDERSON I attempted stand-up early in my career at the Comedy Act Theater off Crenshaw [Boulevard]. It was open-mic night, and I went by the name Tasty Tony the One & Only, If There’s Another He’s a Phony. (Laughs.) There were three comics who went up ahead of me, and I foolishly heckled each one. And I was f—ing hysterical as a heckler. Then the guy called up Tasty Tony. Nobody knew who I was, I was just the crazy heckler in the audience. And it was a room full of comics, so I was persecuted as I walked to the stage. I grab the mic, and the host says, “You better be funny, motherf—er.”
KEY Oh, no.
ANDERSON Before I could get anything out, they turn my mic off. I was like, “F— it, I don’t need a mic.” Then 15 seconds into me being onstage, they shut my light off. I walk off, and I’m shaking uncontrollably. I didn’t get back onstage for four years.
TAMBOR I was doing repertory theater in 1967 in Detroit. It was the year of the Asian flu, and I went, “Well, that seems a little … Oh, what’s that? Well, I better just get rid of that little gas before I go on.” I completely fouled myself. And I’m in chainmail! I had to walk on, glush glush glush. (Laughter.)
OK, Rob, lay ’em out there.
LOWE I’m asked to open the  Oscars. The idea, in theory, was that I would sing and dance with Snow White, and Merv Griffin would then appear singing, “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts,” and all of the old Hollywood establishment would be acknowledged and finally Lily Tomlin would come out of a bunch of fruit. Sounds great, right?
CARMICHAEL I mean, what could go wrong? (Laughs.)
LOWE We start, and it’s apparent that the old people, God bless them, can’t rise or wave. They’re just sitting, so that’s flat, and it begins to die. Then the girl playing Snow White, she’s been rehearsing with those placards on the seats that say Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, and now she’s got actual Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. She’s like an Anaheim Disney girl, so she freaks, and her voice goes up one whole octave. I finally come out and give her that look like, “Whoa, hey, it’s me and you, we got this.” I start doing my bump and grind. By the way, I’m singing “Proud Mary” …
ANDERSON Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary”?
LOWE Yeah ’cause that’s what you think of when you think of me. But with lyrics adjusted to the Oscars. It’s the year Rain Man won everything, and I’m in the middle of singing, and I think I’m actually kinda killin‘ it, and I look out, and Barry Levinson, the director of Rain Man, is doing this: (Mouth hanging open). (Laughter.) He turns to the person next to him and goes (mouths, “What the f—?”). I’m like, “Oh, that’s not good.” So I finish, and I go into the greenroom, and this redheaded older woman says (growling voice): “Young man, I had no idea you were such a good singer.” It was Lucille Ball. She says, “Come sit with me.” She grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let it go, and we watched the Oscars for 20 minutes, just the two of us. And then she said, “Darling, I have a splitting headache, could you get me some aspirin?” So I went and got Lucy what I thought was an aspirin. I gave it to her, and she died 48 hours later. [Editor’s note: Ball died four weeks later of an abdominal aortic aneurysm.]
TAMBOR Wait, hold on, this is way more than embarrassing! (Laughter.)
HALE Yeah, this turned into a crime story.
ANSARI That’s what’s great about hanging out with Rob. 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!” (Laughter.)
This story first appeared in the June 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.