I missed out on the pre-show smoke session and I was pissed. I was already nervous about profiling two guys, Desus and Mero, that I was fairly cool with and have known for a minute now. But the fellas did their best to make up for leaving me and my photographer out of one of their most important rituals before taping Desus & Mero, their Showtime series. We met up in their green room, where we were greeted by a boisterous Mero shouting my name like a Dominican Joe Budden. We laughed, we dapped, and we bullshitted before they went out into the crowd. There was a plethora of Rap Snacks to choose from, along with a bunch of other shit one would eat while being wild smacked.
I almost got emotional seeing my guys being treated like the stars they are, especially since they never switched up on me. We were co-workers during their initial run here at Complex and have kept in touch since, here and there. Desus, Mero, and I have shared a couple blunts in our day at various industry events when they were hosting parties on the side. This is way before they were selling out shows and interviewing presidential hopefuls, and they’re still the same guys, impressively enough; they’re just more famous these days, and have more money in their bank accounts.
This piece was supposed to drop before all this crazy COVID-19 shit popped off. I visited the set of the Showtime series on the day that Desus and Mero were taping an interview with Lakeith Stanfield to get a behind-the-scenes look into one of the best late-night shows on TV. There was a small, diverse crowd of native New Yorkers and gentrifiers there to watch the two kick shit off top. Their pre-show ritual is pretty simple: talk shit in their dressing room as Desus drinks a bottle of Beck’s and both of them get their hair and makeup done. I wasn’t used to seeing movie magic unfold before my very eyes. Both got the Walt “Clyde” Frazier Just for Men treatment so we can see the West Indian goatees in HD, and they were having a full-on off-the-record conversation with me as the makeup artists grew impatient because of all the laughter. Not sure why both don’t just go full Carlos Boozer and give the people what they want! Anyway, before we left the room, I had the pleasure of being included in the prayer circle, and it felt like Randy Brown setting shit off in a pre-game Bulls huddle. We asked what time it was, and God answered back, “Game time!”
Watching the pair come up has been surreal. David Letterman called them the future of late-night television—that’s really all that needs to be said. They’ve established a great relationship with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and had her yelling “YERR” in the White House halls. They’ve interviewed Bernie Sanders, and since quarantine started they’ve sat down remotely with Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci. Packed between the Biden and Fauci interviews was one with John Legend where the guys revisited their underrated hit “Chocolate Galaxy.” They were also hand-picked to interview Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey recently, where they asked about the edit button and whether Donald Trump’s Twitter account should get suspended (both aren’t happening anytime soon). The brand has gone mainstream, you fucking dweebs.
Still, Desus and Mero’s profile can’t be measured by the numbers tied to what they proudly proclaim to be “the No. 1 show in late-night” alone. They’re not doing millions of viewers each episode like their counterparts on national television, but their influence can be seen in more traditional shows in their space that have leaned into the internet world the pair thrive in. Twitter is where they reigned supreme before the platform really went mainstream and turned into everyone throwing jokes around. That’s where they made their bones and built their individual names. It was Complex’s very own Donnie Kwak who had the wherewithal to bring these two together for a podcast like none other, effectively changing the lives of a couple of regular, shmegular hood dudes from the Bronx. Kwak’s pitch came at the perfect time, according to Desus. “That Donnie email came two days after I sent out an email to Mero and our homegirl Koku about making a podcast.” And they haven’t looked back since. Their brand of criticism and street knowledge can only be found in an ungentrified New York, a place where guys like them still existed in bulk. There are still brands out there that make New York feel like New York, and Desus and Mero are at the top of that list.
They’ve come a long way since those early days here at Complex, but make sure to keep the podcast, Bodega Boys, alive in order to stay sharp and stay original. “That's the petri dish. That’s where all the ideas, all the sketches, everything comes from there,” the kid known as Mero proclaims. Check out our sitdown as we touch on a range of topics that include the Brooklyn Nets and how the duo feels about being labeled “sellouts” for taking a deal with Showtime.
[Ed. note: This interview took place back in February of 2020.]
So I wanted this piece to be about Desus and Mero are here to stay right. Because people thought that you guys were going to be…
Mero: A flash-in-the-pan type shit. It’s been, like, six years. The beautiful thing is all the people that thought we were going to be a flash in the pan are the same people that look like everything else that's out there. They didn't believe in us because they thought we were just these two motherfuckers from the hood, that we weren’t going to last. It’s about representation. When people see people like us on TV that look like them, talk like them, dress like them, they relate to us more than, say, Jimmy Kimmel. No shots, Jimmy Kimmel, but you know what I mean.
It’s different. When David Letterman said that you guys are the future when he was on the show, I got goosebumps because I watched you guys grow from the very beginning.
Desus: We made niggas rich; y'all got niggas fired. Everyone that doubted the brand… If you've ever gone against the brand, if you ever had the ability or opportunity to enhance us or put us on a different level, and you didn't embrace us, you don't have a job right now.
Mero: And to bring it back to the MTV days—shout out to Maya Rodriguez, because she was one of the first people to be like, “Yo, this is not y’all last stop. Treat this shit like undergrad.”
Desus: How many people do we know that had a chance to advance us and give us a show, and didn’t? And the thing is, we haven’t changed from day one. We're still doing the same jokes—a little cleaner. But we’re the same people we’ve been for six years and it’s proven itself. When you got good coke, shit gonna sell itself.
How has the writers’ room helped? You guys never had one.
Mero: It’s wild because we'll sit in there. We'll talk. We'll be in there with them or whatever, and a lot of the times, a writer will come to a podcast taping, just to see what the fuck we're talking about.
Desus: Not even to be gassed. I mean, yes, we're funny. But if we really wanted to sit down and do a sketch variety show, the industry could not handle it. That's just how talented we are. And this is not me being on some LeBron suck-my-dick shit. We are hilarious, we are funny, and I say that because we've been in rooms with established comedians, people that run this fucking industry, and the look they have in their eyes when they see us, or when they come over and talk. We've had comedians 30 years in the game come up to us like, “Yo, y'all really don't write nothing?” Like, they can't understand that. Even funnier, people will watch us interact in real life, and they're like, “Holy shit, you're doing exactly what you do on the show.” How did we get ready for the show today? You saw us. We got mic'd up, we smoked some weed, and we drank some Beck’s and got out there.
Damn, I missed the weed part. Where the weed was at? Anyways, you guys have gotten better with your interviews.
Desus: You know it's not so much taking it more serious, its just...
Mero: Doing it different.
Desus: During the first season, we were doing it for edits. Sometimes an interview won't go as flowingly as you want, so we would try to make it easier to edit. But now our whole thing is we're trying to do stream of consciousness, more like Virginia Woolf, that kind of thing.
So there’s a process?
Desus: We ask questions that these people have not been asked in years. And we ask them to think about situations they haven't been in years. If you ask someone who's worth, like, $60 million, “What's the brokest you've ever been?” Ask Jay-Z, “What was the brokest you've ever been?”
Mero: “How many years did you sell crack?”
Desus: You think Jay-Z has ever thought about that at any point in his life? Like, he's doing deals and stuff.
Mero: I feel like that's why the Letterman interview was so good. Because it was like, yeah, that's David Letterman. Homie's an icon. But when he came on our show, it wasn't like a boilerplate-ass interview.
Desus: Well, also, David Letterman doesn't do interviews. So the fact that he would come on our show was just amazing.
Mero: Also, he was familiar. So it was just like, “OK, you know about us already. You want to come on the show; you want to do this shit.” And then to have the rapport and the chemistry that was already there was bananas, and people would watch that and be like, “Shit, these dudes are really doing it,” because Dave is known for being a master interviewer. And for him to say that and pass the torch was crazy.
I’ve noticed people calling you guys sellouts after taking the Showtime deal. Have you guys noticed?
Desus: Yeah, I saw that. Fuck them.
Mero: Eat a dick. People always want to say that when you're giving somebody some shit for free. And not even for free, because the previous channel we were on we weren't on basic cable—that was a premium package. That wasn't no Channel 4-type shit. So that bugged me out, No. 1. No. 2, if you really fuck with the show, and you really think that it's important and culturally relevant and all that shit, you'll fuck with it. You'll find a way to fuck with it.
Desus: Our Showtime announcement tweet had over 10,000 likes. They're trying to get a reaction. Why do those handful of people mean more than the 10,000 people that pressed like? You look at the numbers, people followed us to Showtime. Our numbers at Showtime are almost triple what we were doing on the last channel. And you can't say it's a sellout because its like saying you watch a musician perform at like SOBs and now they're doing fucking MetLife Stadium, you mad at that? Now you're going to get more Desus and Mero. Now that we're on Showtime, now you can maybe get a movie, maybe might get an album. We’re releasing a book soon.
Mero: Knowledge Darts.
Desus: Hey, sweetie, guess what? That show you love on YouTube, someone had to pay the sound guy, someone had to pay the three camera guys, someone has to edit this. The show on YouTube seemed like it was free. It wasn't.
Mero: The Showtime YouTube channel gets no love. There's so much shit on there—categories of shit.
Plus, you guys still do the podcast. Why is it still so important?
Desus: It's all about the original fans. It's never about throwing away the fanbase because we're on Showtime. So that's why we still do the live shows, still do the podcast. The pod isn’t going nowhere; it’s never going behind a paywall. It's always going to be free.
The podcast is how you stay sharp.
Mero: That's the petri dish. That's where all the ideas, all the sketches—everything comes from there.
Desus: Everything comes off the podcast. There's no writers; there's no script. We’re just having fun. Steve Stoute was on The Breakfast Club saying we were geniuses. We own 100 percent of the podcast—the IP, everything. We could lose the show; we can’t lose the podcast. We can do the podcast in Denver, we could do it in Switzerland, we could do it in the Bronx.
Y’all should do a pod in the Tombs, like when Johnny Cash performed at Folsom.
Desus: Wow, Angel. Wow. So you want us to do the thing I've been pitching to network executives for five years?
You can serve those hard-ass peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that taste like cardboard.
Desus: We were approved by the correction officers at Rikers, because they were going to let us do it.
Rikers is supposed to be closing down.
Desus: Rikers not closing down.
Mero: They’re going to do the same shit they did with high schools in NYC where they just changed the name and call it something else. “No, it’s not Rikers Island anymore. It’s the Incarceration Facility for the Betterment of Humanity.”
Desus: They’re going to turn Rikers into the most beautiful fucking co-ops you ever saw. You’re going to see so many white people.
It being an island is a big selling point.
Desus and Mero: [mimicking white people] Rikers Island, Rikers Island. Hey. Hey.
Desus: Hop on a Citi Bike—we're going to watch the Nets game.
Mero: That’s right. 40 Island.
Desus: Let's go! Brooklyn! Brooklyn! Listen, I made some snacks.
You guys have become political pundits now.
Desus: Yeah, we’ve been forced into it. We’re at the point now where candidates reach out to us.
Mero: “Can we come rock?”
Y'all got a very good relationship with AOC.
Desus: AOC’s the homie. We’ve had her on, we’ve had Bernie Sanders on, we’ve had Elizabeth Warren. We had, what’s shortie from Troy?
Desus: So people are reaching out and it’s not in the typical way where it’s like, “Yo, you guys are an urban show. Let’s come on there.” You come on our show, we’re not doing talking points. We’re going to ask you real questions. We took Mayor Pete Buttigieg to Mama Sushi in Washington Heights. And people were like, “Oh he’s pandering; he’s drinking liquor in a park with y’all." But if we didn’t have the show, that’s what we’d be doing. We’d be in the park.
Mero: Which is hilarious because people took literally one gif out of context and was like, “Look, he’s pandering to black people.” At the same time, who’s to say if he was or if he wasn’t? That wasn’t what we were doing.
He’s 100% pandering by going on your show, but you guys aren’t…
Mero: We’re not complicit in the shit.
Desus: It’s become more like the way for him to reach an urban audience. Because, no diss to Charlamagne, but every candidate feels like they have to do Breakfast Club because they think that’s one of the only shows black people listen to.
I mean, it’s politics, too. Remember when Mary J. was singing to Hillary Clinton?
Desus: [singing] “Is that a gun? Is that a sun?” [Laughs.] That's the kind of thing we try to avoid. We do the same thing with politicians that we do with like a regular celebrity. It’s not pandering because we never came out and endorsed Mayor Pete.
Mero: Yeah, we never said, “Yo, vote for this motherfucker.”
Desus: Everyone's like, "We need someone that can beat Trump." No, nigga. What about Russian interference in the election again or voter suppression?
Trump might not even leave office. I mean, we saw this coming.
Desus: It’s wild to see, but—and this is kind of problematic to say—America has turned into what America was going to turn into. Like, if you have a country created by slave owners... Donald Trump is very similar to a slave owner. It’s like if you go into a nightclub and you stand up on the fucking table and security don’t say shit, you’re going to start wilding out more. Donald Trump is in the nightclub that is America. He’s standing on the table, he’s going over the bar, he’s grabbing bottles. No bouncer is like, “Yo, big man, you wilding,” so he’s doing whatever. Next thing you know, he’s going to tell the DJ, “Yo, move. Let me get in there. Let me get a little burn.”
Mero: That motherfucker was around in the era of the mob with John Gotti and all that shit. They were all clicked up. Like, you’d see them at the same spots and all that shit. He got that same mentality—like, you can’t touch me.
Desus: It’s very similar to Jay-Z’s mentality. He’s just a New York hustler.
Mero: I do what I want; you can't touch me. Fuck y’all. The Teflon Don. All that.
Speaking of them bum-ass motherfuckers, how y’all feel about the Nets?
Desus: If you look at the numbers, what Kyrie Irving has done since he went to the Nets, I mean, it’s not that dramatic. He hasn't really helped them, so I feel like the Knicks have dodged a bullet by not getting someone who gets injured all the time.
Mero: Yo, the wildest shit, though. I saw a video, and you know when you’re super smacked and you’re just watching YouTube? I saw this video and it was just a fan video, and it was about Kyrie and it was just like, “Kyrie may have mental issues,” and I felt sorry for the nigga for, like, five minutes. I was so smacked and this dude’s tone of voice made me feel super sorry for Kyrie for, like, 10 minutes. I was like, wait a minute.
Desus: If you’re a Nets fan, you’re kind of a front runner in New York. “Yo, this other team is not making it, they’re not doing what needs to be done, so I’m going to go with the team that seems like it’s going to win more." The Frank Sinatra song “New York, New York” says, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” If you can’t bang with the Knicks, if you can’t go through the suffering and the pain that it means to be a Knick fan. Last night, I watched the Knicks versus Atlanta. I watched two overtimes and missed the beginning of the Oscars. Was this for the playoffs? No. This is a regular-season game. And I was standing in my Timbs, in my living room, clapping my hands like, “Let’s fucking go!” They lost, but it felt good.
Mero: They’re only, like, four games out of the 8th seed. The East is trash. (Ed note: They’re now eight games out).
Desus: I think that’s a representation of being in New York. You’re always right there; you’re always one connection away from making it. That’s what happened to us.
Did y’all know that Leon Rose was a white man?
Desus: Actually, I did.
Mero: No. I had no idea.
Leon Rose sounds like a barber's name and he’s running around with World Wide Wes.
Mero: Leon Rose is a small forward in the G League. It’s crazy because for the longest I thought Ron Baker was black and Fred Van Vleet was white. Switch those names around.
Desus: I got a Ron Baker jersey, dawg. I have so many Knick jerseys for players that played for, like, three weeks.
Mero: Oh my god. It was the wildest shit, so boom. So holidays are coming around, and my wife is like, “Let’s get the kids Giants, Knicks, and Yankees jerseys.” For the Yankees, it was easy. I was like, “Get all three Dominicans. Get me Sevy, Sanchez, and whoever else.” And for the Giants, it was just like, “Damn, the Giants are trash. I’m gonna get three Saquon jerseys?” But then, for the Knicks, I didn’t know what to do.
You gotta get them old-school ones. Ewing, Starks, Oakley.
Mero: Frankie Smokes. [Laughs.]
Desus: Come with the wild Chauncey Billups jersey.
He played for us for, like, six months.
Desus: Yo, is that a JR Reid jersey?
Herb Williams. That motherfucker used to be on the bench for, like, 10 years.
Desus: Yo, Dad, thank you for this Charles Smith Jersey. I can't do any lay-ups.
Oh my god, that game killed me.
Desus: That’s the thing about being a Knick fan. What games have Nets fans had that was just like, “Yo, that broke me as a person.” We got Game 7 of the Finals, we got Charles Smith getting blocked under the basket, we got the Melo getting blocked by Roy Hibbert. We got losses!
Roy Hibbert isn’t in the league anymore!
Mero: The nigga played like Shaq for two days.
You guys are basically ambassadors for the Yankees now. How does it feel for them to embrace you the way they have?
Mero: It’s ill because you wouldn’t think that they would.
Desus: Shout out to the Yankees because they’re coming around. MLB altogether is coming around. For years, we were reaching out to them. They’ve hired a whole new crop of young, talented brown people, and they’re reaching out. They know how the internet works. They rented out a bar. They gave us all-field access. We were out there recording for the MLB network, on the field at Yankee Stadium. We go “Yerr” and then the whole stadium is like, “Yerr.” To be from the Bronx and have that experience is fucking crazy.
The only people that care about baseball are old white people and Latinos. Basically, people living in big cities.
Desus: Exactly. A lot of older white people or off-duty cops. How do you have Yankee Stadium in the heart of one of the brownest cities in the world and there’s no brown people at the games? You go to a Yankee Game and it’s all white people. We need that Adobo; we need that Bronx flavor and stuff. You can’t have Yankee Stadium filled with Connecticut residents.
Who’s your dream guest?
Desus: Donald Trump. Every interview with him, no one’s ever pressed him. He’s always like, “I have the most support in the black community.” No, you don’t.
Mero: Call a black person right now that’s not Ben Carson.
You guys are doing the show twice a week now. Why not five, like the other late-night shows?
Desus: We went from four times a week to one; now we're doing two. It’s whatever the audience wants. Because that’s the reason we went two nights a week. Now, if the audience was to hit Showtime up about more nights... [wink, wink, nod, nod].
Mero: I feel like we can bang out whatever we need to bang out. Because we playing with house money.
Was there ever a time where you guys thought about going solo and not being Desus and Mero anymore?
Desus: Once it started hitting, especially after Complex, getting to MTV2 and realizing not all people can work as a duo like this, we didn’t take it for granted.
Mero: When you have the type of chemistry we have, it just comes. Mad people don’t have that. There’s been shows that people just try to stick people together and try to make it work, and it doesn’t. There’s got to be a deeper connection than, “Yo, these two motherfuckers are funny.” People feel our chemistry and that ease that we have with each other. They come on our show and it doesn’t feel rehearsed. If not broke, don’t fix it.
So the book is going to be hood advice like that Ghostface MTV show?
Desus: Yeah. It’s like knowledge darts from people from the Bronx who tell you how to survive relationships, going to jail, drugs, how to cook a perfect steak. Everything is in there.
Mero: Raising kids, all that.
New York Times best-seller, you think?
Desus: Don Diva best seller.
Mero: [laughs] No. 1 in F.E.D.S.
Desus: No. 1 in One Nut. What’s up? Get that at Parkchester, Rudy's Records.
I see the wardrobes getting more expensive.
Desus: Yeah, the budget’s going up, baby.
So when you moving to Jersey with Mero?
Desus: I’m never moving to Jersey.