Let all the other late-night shows tell you the news, or make the same Trump-Russia jokes. On their new Showtime show Desus & Mero, the comedy duo Desus Nice and the Kid Mero want to do everything but that: “I don’t want to say we don’t concern ourselves with what everybody else is doing, but we really don’t,” Mero says. “We just do us, and whatever happens, happens.”
Desus talks faster and longer; Mero interjects to punctuate the jokes with an impression or a voice. There’s no studied style to their comedy, or to their show. All they do is meet up and riff — on the news, on whatever is circulating on the internet and Black Twitter, on New York City — and sometimes there’s a camera present (Desus & Mero), an audience (their live shows), or just a mic (Bodega Boys, their podcast). Everyone else makes late night seem hard; for Desus and Mero, it’s breezy. The construction of their Showtime show is still basically similar to their previous show on Viceland — which both only refer to as their “other show” — that ran four nights a week. Showtime gave them more money, but the two insist that they’re keeping it pretty simple: They’re just funny, and that doesn’t need a lot of bells and whistles. “Perfect takes and all of that? That’s the other shows,” Desus says. “For us it’s effortless. We’re just shooting the shit with each other.”
What did you guys talk about on the podcast today?
Desus Nice: His mother-in-law trying to kill him. And how Rihanna makes Fenty Beauty out of foreskins. Did you know that?
Desus: Nah, we just made that up! We Googled “What happens to foreskins after circumcision?” thinking, like, Oh, they just get thrown out as biohazard. Apparently, they’re used to make high-end makeup.
The Kid Mero: Beauty products, yeah. You learn something new every day on the podcast.
Desus: We just thought they made calamari with it, but no.
Mero: We were very wrong.
So, tell me about the show: We posted the staff writers’ names, and I’m wondering what that experience of working with a writers room was like for you both.
Desus: The first component of the show is basically us riffing. That remains untouched. The writers room is for the more fleshed-out, produced pieces, sketches, man-on-the-street stuff, fake movie trailers.
Mero: We needed people who know the formatting of a sketch, technical shit. ‘Cause we already know how to be funny, not to sound arrogant —
Desus: Talk your shit!
Mero: But you know what I mean? We’ve been doing this. We did like four gagillion episodes previously on our other show, so we know what we’re doing. The first half of the program is exactly what you would expect: us, off the cuff. But it’s just shinier. It’s not as weird and basement-y as it was before.
“Weird, basement-y.” Okay.
Mero: There’s money there, now!
So how do you find people with your sensibility, but who have this experience in late night?
Mero: We literally went through … 300 submissions.
Desus: Every writer in New York. Some of them, you see a name, and it’s like, “Oh. Shit. I know this person” — like they’re people we hang out with. We didn’t really just pick people we never worked with before. Like Heben [Nigatu] from Another Round — that’s my homegirl right there. She was a no-brainer. She’s gotten our humor before our humor was even a podcast. Josh Gondelman was with John Oliver’s show. It was really hard to pick because there are so many talented people. Some of the names, we were just like, “Wow. You want to work on our show?”
Mero: Like, “Wow. You want to work on this?”
Desus: People with mad Emmys and stuff!
Was there something you noticed in submissions you didn’t like?
Desus: With that amount of submissions, you’re gonna have some people who are just like, “Hey. I don’t know these guys. But here’s a sketch I wrote two years ago, and I’m just gonna shoehorn Desus and Mero into it.” Worse than that were people who overdid it: “Yo! Desus are Mero are human chopped cheese sandwiches going to get a chopped cheese sandwich from a living Timberland boot.”
Mero: [Rolling his eyes.] “And they’re Yankees fans!”
Desus: “And then a pit bull comes and asks, ‘Where’s my rent?’ And they hide in a magic do-rag.” We’re a little more than that. We’re a little more than Bronx stereotypes.
The best part of your stuff together is just how easy your rapport is. With more money, with a bigger platform, how do you keep that in balance?
Mero: Other stuff is like super overproduced, but us —
Desus: We’re the 65 score you need to move on to the next grade. We’re not doing too much. You ask the teacher, “How much do I need to pass? 65? All right. I’ll see you at the final.”
But more specifically, how does that happen? How do you temper it all right at that 65?
Mero: Part of it is just showing how the sausage is made, so to speak. We’re just sitting around just talking shit. There’ll be stagehands walking around setting shit up still, with the cameras still going. That’s the thing that we developed over the course of working: There have been places where we worked where it’s just like “Stop!” [right in the middle of a joke]. It’s like, Damn, dude. We were on a roll. Why did we stop now? It becomes too much of, “Oh, well, can we get this other line? Can you say this?” That’s what we’re trying to completely steer away from in this incarnation of the show.
Desus: We don’t treat it as a job. We get up in the morning, we’re texting each other like, “Yo, you seen this tweet?” When we get to the office we’re already rolling. Other people, they get in the studio, they got to talk to writers. No matter what, if we weren’t doing the TV show — if we worked at a school, or we worked at a cafeteria — we’d still be doing this natural back-and-forth. You can’t overproduce that.
So what does the best show look like? And what does an okay or a bad show look like?
Mero: Now when you say “bad show” — I don’t know if we’re even capable of doing that!
I don’t mean like that!
Desus: I remember there was a show where Mero had gotten something done with his tooth, and he had stitches at the back of his mouth. He was in pain. And I had like a wild sinus infection. We’re doing the show, and at the end of it, we’re just like, “There’s no way that was any good.” But immediately people are fucking crying in the audience. The staff is cracking up. Not to be gas, but we don’t make bad shows.
Mero: I can’t even say that we have been in a position where there’s been like dead. There might be a lull and shit, where it’s just us laughing. That’s the lull: us laughing.
And now you’re weekly, as opposed to daily.
Desus: Rather than get a couple jokes for Monday, a couple jokes for Tuesday, you’re getting, like, the super-concentrated joke rush on Thursday. Now we have time to reshoot a trailer from our point of view.
A Star Is Born, from your point of view.
Desus: We’re tryin’! We shot a remake of Green Book that is amazing. And I can’t say any more than that. All I can say is Mero has a wig on.
Mero: But, like, have you seen the movie?
Mero: Didn’t you see how ham-fisted it is?
Desus: It’s like, “We’re gonna solve race relations today!”
Even the Italian-ness was so stereotypical.
Desus and Mero, in unison: Exactly!
Desus: We see something like that and we’re like, “All right. What other show on TV right now can mock this and mock this the right way?” Other shows are like, “This is a great movie.” But we’re like, “It’s not. And we’re gonna point out to you why it’s not.”
Mero: We’re depending on the intelligence of our audience with this stuff. When you have to explain a joke, it’s not funny. Everything we do has to be organic and feel right.
Desus: If we’re having a conversation, it’s real. It’s not him saying, “Yo, I’m deadass doing my taxes, B.”
Mero: That’s not — I wouldn’t even say that. I probably wouldn’t even record if I’m doing my taxes because I’m fucking doing my taxes.
Desus: Yeah, like, also I wouldn’t be doing my taxes, I’m a sovereign citizen.
Do you ever feel like the brand is … too strong? And also when you’re in something this well-oiled, I’m wondering how you’re thinking about an audience who might be meeting y’all for the first time.
Desus: Yeah, that’s definitely going to happen, and that’s happened every time we’ve gone to a new network and done a new show. Maybe we talk too fast, maybe we’re a little too New York–centric, but if you sit there and you work with it, you eventually will get it. We’re not jerks. We’re not out there cursing at people. We’re actually pretty normal.
Mero: And we’re not saying shit that’s not true. We’re not over here just randomly slandering people, saying fake shit. Like bro, if you are the president and it’s very difficult for you to put a bottle of water to your mouth, we’re gonna fucking talk about that. Like, if your hair’s blowing and it’s looking like you’re losing a couple tracks, we’re going to point that out.
Desus: If you just want to watch a show, you can be perfectly fine just watching the show. You don’t have to listen to the podcast, because the references aren’t that deep that you’re going to be lost. But if you want to go deeper, you have the podcast, you have the live shows, you have the stuff we do on Twitter.
Our fans are rabid. We did a shoot the other day, and our fan website had paparazzi shots of us doing the shoot before Showtime had it. That’s the kind of shit we’re on now.
So tell me about dealing with this level of fame.
Desus: Even the other day, I hopped out of my car to go get a sandwich, and this guy was like, “Yo! Yo, I can’t believe it’s you; it’s you!” When I got in the car, my driver was like, “After Thursday, that’s just going to happen everywhere you go.”
Mero: I’m with my family at Chick-fil-A, and people come up to you whispering, “Yeah, I fuck with the show. I don’t want to bother you while you’re with your family, but I’m going to creepily lean over and whisper into your ear that I fuck with the show.”
Desus: Even in a super-crowded train car, they’re trying to have a conversation with you over five people.
Is there ever a giveaway?
Mero: I was on vacation with my wife in the Caribbean. I didn’t want to fly with weed because I was flying international for the first time in a while, and I was just like mad nervous. When I got there, I’m on the beach with my wife and shit. We’re just chilling, and then we start walking back toward our little villa, and she said something funny. I started laughing, and some dude was like, “Mero?” The dude recognized my laugh, and he turned around. He’s like, “Yo, I fuck with the show, crazy.” Then he’s like, “Yo, I got vapes. I got this.” Like, yooooo.
Desus: I was in the bodega by my house yesterday. I was saying hi to the sandwich guy, who hasn’t been there in a while. The person in front of me was like, “I know that voice anywhere. Oh, shit, it’s the legend.”
Mero: We’re just from the Bronx. We’re giving you the real: This is how we talk. This is how we dress. This is how we address each other.
Desus: One network was basically like, “You guys will never be accepted in the Midwest. You guys are too New York. It’s jarring to them.” And what Showtime found is that people love that. It doesn’t matter where you’re watching because you can be from Iowa and still get our New York references, and still get our New York jokes, because if we’re beefing about highway traffic or something, there’s highway traffic in Iowa.
Mero: We’re talking about bodegas, but a bodega is just a small business. If you’re a small-business owner, if you’re somebody who patronizes a small business — you might not get it in a sense of like, Oh, they’re talking about a bodega, but if you peel back the New York layer, there’s still something relatable under that.
Right, everyone has a corner store or a gas station, a place to hang out.
Mero: Also, like, everybody fucking loves New York. Sex and the City was huge, you know what I’m saying?
I want to get back to the Trump stuff because the so-called Trump bump is so palpable. There’s certainly a divide between late-night shows that know how to talk about him and shows that are still figuring it out.
Desus: No, we was on his ass from day one.
Mero: From the election special, we were like, “This motherfucker’s the … ‘You’re fired’ dude?”
Desus: At one point, we were just like, “Yo, we don’t want to talk about Trump anymore.” We had just talked about him every day because he was just doing such wild things. While other people were just like, “He did this with the Russians; he did that with the Russians,” we were just like, “Listen, he can’t pronounce antifa.”
Mero: He can’t drink water.
Do you feel like a lot of celebrities are, or should be, harsher on Trump? It seems like Cardi B and Robert De Niro are the only people who are like, “Dude, fuck Trump.”
Desus: A lot of times with celebrities — and I’m learning this from being around them — they actually have no idea what’s going on. They live in bubbles, and they’re so detached from actual society. They know Trump is bad, but how many of them actually know about people in ICE containment camps or families being separated at the border? They have handlers who have handlers, and they just go from SUV to SUV, from photo shoots to photo shoots. But I feel like it’s such a layup to roast him because he’s so roastable.
Mero: Trump is goofy, he’s fat. He’s out of shape. He thinks super highly of himself. Just like a cartoon. He’s a human cartoon. I’m like, “Yo, how can you not roast this dude?” If you see the assistant principal of your high school acting like that, he would be roasted.
Something I loved about the Vice shows were how good you both were at interviewing. What’s your secret?
Desus: A good interview? Don’t research anything.
Mero: All the other late-night people preinterview, pre-this and pre-that. No, just go in there blind, even when I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, or who you are. We’re gonna talk to you and we’re gonna find out. And you’re gonna find out with us, and that’s the best thing about the interviews. You’re not getting canned answers that you’re gonna see all day on the shows.
Desus: The best interview I’ve ever seen was just — one time, I got locked up for the weekend. They just keep moving you from room to room, and we’re just sitting there in a 40-man cell. There’s no TV or whatever, and everyone would just go around the room and say what you were in for. I just learned techniques, Like if they say, “When I was a child I had to pick between martial arts and singing,” it becomes, “Oh, you did martial arts?”
We all know you’re here to plug a product, your book, your movie. Whatever. But it’s just, like, show me a piece of your humanity that I should care about you. We’ve done interviews where it’s just like, “Yo, I always hated this person and they came across as a real individual on your show, and that’s completely changed my stance of them, and now I follow their music, or check out their movie.”
You can’t get that if someone gives you a press kit. It’s like, “Hey, at 17, they had their first Emmy Award.” It’s like, “What were you doing at 16? What were you doing at 14? What were you doing at 10 that made you decide to get into this industry? Did you ever sleep in your car? Did you ever have a moment where you’re just like, Yo, this is not for me?”
Mero: Especially when you get people who are like us. You know what I mean? You know what I mean when I say that. They have been to all the other suit-and-tie shows, and then they come to us, and it’s like, “Oh, shit, you sound like me.”
Has your friendship changed, as you’ve been on this ride together?
Desus: You know what? It’s less stressful now because we got money.