When Desus Nice and The Kid Mero speak, they sound like two guys bantering on Fordham Road — a Bronx shopping district famous for blunt characters and affectionately dubbed the “hood Times Square” by locals. It’s not just their use of slang that affirms that reading. On their new Viceland show Desus & Mero and their weekly podcast The Bodega Boys, they tuck sharp social commentary inside blankets of abrasive humor and lean on the sort of skepticism you inherit growing up in the most neglected part of a wealthy metropolis like New York. In a recent podcast episode, for example, they joked that Popeyes fast food restaurants are placed within 500 feet of poor public schools on purpose. The “Popeyes lining,” The Kid Mero called it. Desus wondered how six boneless wings and a side can realistically cost five dollars. The Kid Mero demurred, then launched into the chain’s jingle: “Love that chicken from Popeyes.”
Their animated and smart brand of humor was developed on Twitter, where, around 2010, both separately found cult followings outside of their day jobs. (Desus Nice, 34, was a writer for a “niche financial magazine for black people,” and The Kid Mero, 32, an aide at a public school). Eventually, their tweets led them to one another and, in 2013, they joined forces offline to develop a web-series produced by Complex. That led to segments on MTV2 and the launch of their podcast, sponsored by Red Bull, which has given the duo a platform to coalesce their singular brand and grow a devoted base of listeners they call the “Bodega Hive.” The format is simple: Desus cracks a beer, Mero sparks a blunt, and the two hurl jokes, slander, and “fuego takes” on topics of their choosing for over an hour.
Their new nightly show on Viceland is an attempt to boil down this winning formula into half-hour segments performed in front of a nationwide television audience. The show, which airs four nights a week, is produced by Erik Rydholm, creator of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, and features Desus and Mero sounding off on items of the day served up in video clip or tweet form. To set the mood, the two don playful snapbacks and sweaters that sometimes pay homage to figures like the revered Latino television astrologer Walter Mercado. Topics that get skewered include everything from Lil’ Wayne’s recent comments on Black Lives Matter to the upcoming season of Games of Thrones. Donald Trump’s claims that the presidential election was rigged and the aftermath of his election have also come under fire.
Fifteen episodes into a planned 160-episode season, they’ve added a street-level perspective — both still live in the Bronx — to nighttime television that is in distinct and refreshing contrast to their suited-up peers. After all, Trevor Noah wouldn’t sport a hoody and drop a whirlwind of profanities while coming to the urgent defense of bodega cats. By the same token, he probably wouldn’t prepare for an interview about a new show by smoking a blunt, as Mero informed me he’d just done when I got him and Desus on the phone last week.
How does it feel to finally have your own show? Is this something you always wanted?
Mero: I feel like the both of us didn’t expect to be in a position where it’s like, “Yo, we’re doing comedy and it’s our job and it’s all that we do.” Just being in the position is dope. And then having a show where we have the latitude and autonomy we have is fucking amazing, b. A lot of people are in television for years, and years, and years, and don’t really get to do what they want to do until mad years into their career. We just started doing this shit and we’re getting to do a show the way we want to do it — which is fucking crazy. Oh, I’m sorry, wild. Crazy is an ableist term.
Desus: I can’t say I’ve ever sat down and said, “Damn, I want a TV show,” but in the past I did look at people on TV and think, I can do that. For someone else to look at me, and look at Mero and say “Yeah, they can do that” and put us on a channel, give us a dream team to help us make a fire show that is not corny, and be our true authentic selves? Dawg, this is very rare.
What would you say is the biggest difference between the show and the podcast? Do you have to censor yourself more?
Mero: Honestly, there’s not that big of a difference aside from the visual element. We’re not really that censored either. We’re on TV so we can’t say “fuck” twenty-eight times, but we can say it five times.
Desus: The podcast is almost two hours. We just get out there and fly. Red Bull doesn’t have anything that they say we can and can’t joke about. But with TV we have to be a little more sensitive about sponsors, brand, and running things through legal. But Viceland is so hands-off and the people that work here are such pros, it never encumbers the actual process. We can pretty much go in there and do what we want to do, and they will take care of all the other stuff. Also, we have to dress a little better for the TV show than we would for the podcast. You can wear whatever the fuck you want to record a podcast. On TV, you have to look clean or else people will flame you on Twitter.
Do you find it difficult to produce material on a daily basis as opposed to a weekly basis? You guys are scheduled to produce over 160 episodes in the next year. That’s like a full baseball season.
Desus: Not at all.
Mero: We got the dream team of people working with us, plucking stories that are of interest to us. We’re not being forced to talk about anything. There could be a huge news item that we think is wack and we won’t touch it. Or, there could be something that is very niche, and we fuck with it so we’re talking about it for 15 minutes. Coming up with stuff is easy. We basically find the topic, read about it, and then give our opinion on it. That shit is like a layup.
Desus: To continue the basketball analogy, as far as the podcast, there was never really any pre-planning. That was really like, yo, day of, get in there, pull up from 80 feet. Just get a handful of facts and talk our shit into the mic. The show is the same thing, but I feel like it’s turning into muscle memory because it’s every day. You can see the difference between episode one and tonight’s episode in that it’s more crafted in the way we enter a joke and exit a joke, or button a joke. We’re learning the ins-and-outs. It’s never an issue of what to talk about because we’ll never run out of material. It actually feels like a challenge to go in there and be funnier than the night before. Every day you wake up thinking, How can I make everyone in the room laugh? How can I shut this shit down and just kill a joke or kill a punch line?
“If you’re from the Bronx and you’re doing comedy, you’re a sharp comedian. You’re not going to be in a Wes Anderson movie. Your shit is hitting and it can be a little dark, but it’s going to cut.” —The Kid Mero
Your show is basically built around commenting on a handful of videos, tweets, and current news and pop culture items. How do you choose what you do and do not talk about?
Desus: We have a team of producers for each segment and they are not just random wing dings. They are people we’ve worked with before. You know, we hang with them, we smoke with them. They know what topics appeal to us. They know Mero might want to do something about fatherhood. Whereas something about sneakers, that’s Desus’s alley. They’ll make a master list of things that are happening that day and ask us, “Do you want to talk about this?” Sometimes we won’t feel that strongly about something but we’ll try it live and if it works, it works, and if not, we take it out. It’s very laid-back. It’s kind of like when you get to work in the morning and you’re just shooting the shit with your coworkers about what was on TV the night before.
Part of why I enjoy your comedy is because it’s so natural and conversational. It reminds me a lot of high school and how my boys and I would just sort of talk shit during lunch time. How do you two come up with material?
Desus: It’s funny you make that analogy because so many people say that. It definitely feels like high school. We’re just joking around. I’m trying to make Mero laugh and Mero is trying to make me laugh. We’re just shooting the shit. You know when you go in the bodega and there is that guy who is a little drunk and every now and then he has a funny joke? That’s us. We’re just in there arguing with that guy.
So far you’ve had people like Charlamagne Tha God and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend on the show. How do you choose guests? Will having guests on the show always be a nightly thing or are you planning on other segments?
Desus: We’re doing so many episodes of the show and it’s daily so it’s really a living process. We can swap out a segment or add something. We might add a field piece later on. We might do a sketch. As far as guests, a lot of the people we’ve had on the show are people we’ve worked with in the past or we just fuck with in real life. We’re not really using a booking agent. We just call them up. It’s fun, it’s chill, and we’re not giving people “gotcha” questions. We’re just having the homies come through.
In a perfect world, who is someone you don’t know that you’d like to bring on the show?
Mero: Obama would be lit. As soon as he is out of office officially and he starts cursing and shit. I don’t want him now because he’s still the president and has to act a certain way. But when he comes and he’s just like, “What up nigga, it’s Barry. What’s popping?” That would be lit.
“Every day you wake up thinking, <i>How can I make everyone in the room laugh? How can I shut this shit down and just kill a joke or kill a punch line?</i>” —Desus Nice
As someone who grew up in the Bronx, I love that you guys reference the borough in so much of your humor. You tend to make a lot of jokes imagining situations, like an ISIS beheading and how people from the Bronx might react. You also reference neighborhoods, streets, and even public housing projects people won’t really know about unless they’re from there. How did growing up in the Bronx influence your comedy?
Mero: We’re the neglected children of New York City. That comes through in everything we do. The Bronx is very much maligned and everyone thinks it’s this crazy war zone where only bad things happen. It’s wild, but it’s not a total shit hole. There are great things that come out of there, like us. Also, the zoo. If you’re from the Bronx and you’re doing comedy, you’re a sharp comedian. You’re not going to be in a Wes Anderson movie. Your shit is hitting and it can be a little dark, but it’s going to cut. It’s not soft comedy. The Bronx is not a soft place. And you kind of have to always be aware of your surroundings. A lot of comparisons and references we make, like the one about not being afraid of ISIS, that comes quickly to us because... Damn, I’m smacked…
Desus: I think what Mero is trying to say is being from the Bronx, all the jokes and the viewpoints are always going to be very Bronx-centric. When you’re in the Bronx, unless you travel into the city, all you know is the Bronx. When you make your humor it is for people in the Bronx and that’s why you have all the local references. Taking that on a larger, nationwide platform, maybe we should stop referencing the Bronx, but that wouldn’t be authentic. Also, being from the Bronx, you know life is cheap. So you’re able to apply that to when you see ISIS videos and other people are like, “Yo, ISIS is out here chopping heads off.” But for me it’s like, I could get my head chopped off at three in the morning in front of the bodega.
You guys were both discovered on Twitter and it’s fair to say the platform has been key to your success. How important is it to you now? Are you worried at all that it won’t exist one day?
Desus: We actually think about that a lot. We were just saying that the whole point of Twitter is to live the kind of life so that one day you don’t need Twitter. I think we’ve positioned ourselves in that space. People still fuck with our Twitter, but we’ve got the podcast, we’ve got the show. If you woke up tomorrow and Twitter was gone, you’d still see our beautiful faces and hear what we have to say.
Mero: To me, social media apps and websites or whatever, they all have shelf life of maybe five years. Facebook is good because they secured all the old people and old people stay locked into shit for mad long. But Twitter, Instagram, all that other shit, it has a shelf-life. I got into Twitter because I had a blog, and I had people hitting me up in the comments in the blog saying I should get on Twitter. I got on it to promote a blog and it turned into this whole other thing. I could just sit there smacked and just fire off these little darts. But now it’s just a good tool to promote what we’re doing. It’s not our bread and butter anymore.
Desus: I used to use it to vent because I was unhappy with my job. But now I’m very happy with my job so I don’t have a lot to vent about. Also, I have too many followers to be venting. If I get on there and complain about a rough day filming the show, they’ll be like, “Yo, fuck you. I’m eating peanut butter sandwiches right now.”
Who are your influences? Growing up, did you look up to certain comedians or writers?
Desus: Not even comedians. Probably my cousin who is a hustler and never had a real job in his whole life. I never was a big fan of comedy. I was never studying Richard Pryor tapes or anything like that. I hear other comedians saying, “Oh, growing up I always knew I wanted to do comedy,” but that was never something I would say. I always liked Dave Chappelle. There was one time I heckled him at a live taping for his show and he really cracked up and enjoyed it. In that moment, I was like, OK, maybe I could do something like this one day.
Mero: I got cable one year and I just started watching mad standup on Comedy Central. I discovered a bunch of comedians: Paul Mooney, Patrice O’Neal, club comedians. And then the big-time dudes like Eddie Murphy who’d have an hourlong special. I would think, Man, this is weird, this is just a dude talking. It blew my mind. At that point in my life, my parents were always making me do impressions of my uncles. Whenever there was a family gathering they’d be like, “Tell us about the time we was at the supermarket and your uncle had a wedgie,” and I’d tell the story. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d do this for a living. I just wanted to make my family laugh. All my drunk uncles. They are all old Dominican men that have a very weird sense of humor. You take that with my upbringing in America and in New York City, and that’s basically what influences my comedy.
Speaking of your family, you guys talk about the idiosyncrasies of being the children of Caribbean immigrants. Like, for instance, how they’re never really that impressed by what you do because they worked so hard to get to this country. How has your family reacted to the show? Do they watch it?
Mero: My sister is always like, “Whatever nigga, you got your little show, OK. I don’t even have that channel.” But I know for a fact she goes to her job and she’s like, “Yo, my brother is on TV,” and is excited. The older generation in my family has no idea what the fuck I do. They just know I’m on TV. They don’t watch the show or nothing like that. My dad is like, “You’re on TV, buy me a Land Rover.”
You guys poke fun at almost everything — there’s nothing that seems off-limits on your show or podcast. What, if anything, gets you riled up? Is there anything you don’t joke about?
Mero: The fucking Knicks!
Desus: Damn right. We bleed that orange and blue. I think honestly that’s the only thing we would get tight about. Don’t talk shit about the Knicks or the Bronx and you’re good money with us. You could come in here and say, “Mero, all your kids are ugly,” and Mero would be like, “Actually, they are quite cute.” But if you come in here and you’re like, “Yo, Kristaps Porzingis is overrated,” oh man.
Mero: You’re getting the hands.
What’s next? What sort of things do you see yourselves doing in the future?
Mero: Our agent said the way you really hit a lick is with a movie. So we’re trying to get this movie lick and be out in L.A. smoking mad exotic strains.
Desus: We’re going to do an animated series, then we’re going to do a movie, then we’re going to open a mega church. Can’t wait. We’re going to have a worldwide ministry. But in all seriousness, we do have some other projects in the works right now that are under wraps. Basically, we want to be like Law & Order: any time you turn on your TV, we should be on.
Last question, which is more for me and maybe anyone else reading who is from the Bronx. If you could have dinner with any Bronx celebrities — dead or alive — who would they be and where would you take them?
Desus: Larry Davis, the ex-con who went to war with the cops and won. Hmm, he’s not from the Bronx, but I also would invite [polarizing city planner] Robert Moses so I could ask him why he was a dickhead and tore the Bronx apart. And then French Montana. We’d go to the Lobster Box on City Island. And I’d get Robert Moses to pay for it, because he owes us.
Mero: Big Pun, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and J. Lo, and we would eat at the Crosstown Diner on Tremont Avenue. I’d have Pun freestyling at the table while I drink a milkshake even though I’m lactose intolerant. Neil deGrasse Tyson would be like “Yo, that’s not how milkshakes work. Actually, lactose is broken down by Lactaid in your body,” and I’m like, “I don’t care, dawg.” J. Lo is there and I’m just like, “Yo, don’t try to sing. Just chill.”