–Original article published on GQ (5/15/2017)–
On a Monday in late March, Desus Nice and The Kid Mero are worried about Fetty Wap’s chain. The duo are in the conference room on the third floor of the Vice office in Brooklyn where they tape Desus & Mero, listening to Drake’s “Gyalchester.” It’s minutes before the day’s episode, and one of the guests, former NFL running back Arian Foster, sits on a nearby couch. It’s a show that’ll open with jokes about “Trumpito and his minions.” (“Every day I gotta smoke way more weed than usual ’cause of y’all, man!” says Mero). But for now, Fetty Wap’s chain. It had been stolen the day before, at a bodega shoot-out in the rapper’s hometown of Paterson, New Jersey.
“What’s Fetty Wap doing at a bodega at 5:00 a.m. in Paterson?” Desus asks. “You need to go at 5:00 p.m. in Paterson.”
“My man carries way too much cash on him at all times to be walking around at 5:00 a.m.,” Mero adds. “He’s got that video where he tips the guy, like, $500? Come on, my n—— . You can’t do that shit on film, bro.”
“When I’m in the bodega, I’m still little D from the block, giving nobody no money,” Desus says to a room full of laughing staffers, the team that does four tapings a week for Viceland’s 11 p.m. slot.
Mero: “I’m spitting out quarters. Clink, clink, clink.”
Desus: “I pay for something with a dollar, I’m waiting for that penny back. I’m like, ‘Yo! N——s ain’t rich!'”
This won’t be in their show, but it is their show: A reaction to something topical becomes some combination of riff, roast, and impression, the ridiculousness of which balloons in equal proportion to its hilarity until no one in the room—or watching at home—is not laughing. It’s a striking comedic compatibility that’s always on, one born out of a millennial fairy tale of an origin story: Two high school acquaintances from the Bronx go on to separate careers, orbiting within the same universe but never touching…until they reconnect online (on what they call “Bronx Twitter”), discover a previously untapped chemistry, find each other IRL (first on Complex’s Desus vs. Mero podcast, then with stints at MTV2), and go on to spend many a late night together. (On your TV, at least.)
And that particular background with Vice’s unfiltered platform has created a cultural moment you’d be unwise to miss. Because where else are you going to find a Jamaican-American (Desus) and a Dominican-American (Mero) sounding off on everything from Steve Bannon (“N—— looks wild smelly”) to Instagram celebrity Cardi B (“Shout-out to you, Queen of the Bronx”) on entirely their own terms? (Well, almost entirely—they’re only allowed five “fucks” a show.) At a time of peak bullshit—both in terms of fake news and people being horrible—it’s endearingly authentic: two dudes from the Bronx just simply reacting to the nation’s most frightening news and the Internet’s funniest videos, being offensive but not off-putting. It’s late-night liberalism without any of the suit-and-tie elitism—catharsis without condescension.
I returned to their set three days after the Fetty Wap roast session. In the interim, Mero (real name Joel Martinez) saw his fourth child born and didn’t miss a show. The bigger of the two, he sits in a chair, wearing a red hoodie with “Dyckman” on the front, eating a salad and drinking straight from a liter of Sprite. Desus (né Daniel Baker) is perched on a table, legs hanging down the front. In conversation, they are as they are on the show: both totally at ease. Mero constantly breaks into spontaneous impressions—of his sister, of an old white lady (“I’m not racist, and I love your show!”), of the less bachata-inclined residents who are bringing gentrification to the Dominican-influenced Dyckman. (“[The gentrifiers are like], ‘Guys, come on. Really with the [Dominican singer] Antony Santos at 3 a.m.? Please? Guys? Come on.’ “) When he’s not flicking through his phone, Desus maintains strict eye contact though gesticulates expressively enough that, at one point, he knocks a mostly full glass off the table and onto the floor.
“Don’t worry,” he says, seeing me looking at the pool of whatever he was previously drinking. “We’ll buy a new carpet.”
Spoken like a guy who knows what the rest of us do: Desus and Mero are going to be around for a while.
GQ: Did it surprise you when you first started blowing up or resonating with people?
Desus Nice: It’s going to sound gassed, but we used to always look at other people doing stuff like, “We could do better than that.” When you know you have talent, and you know you’re funny, it’s not a hater thing. Of course, it’s easy to say. There’s a guy in a barbershop right now, like, “I can drop 96 points on LeBron every night.” It’s another thing to actually go out there and do it. And then when they dropped the link to the podcast, the response off that was like, “Yo! I didn’t know I was missing this, but this is exactly what we needed.”
Kid Mero: I was taking a shit the other day, and I told my wife I was the LeBron of comedy, and she was like, “That’s a very arrogant statement.” And I was like, “I don’t care.” That’s how I feel. That’s how you gotta feel.
Growing up, when did you realize you liked to make people laugh?
Mero: I used to make fun of my uncles, and my parents would love that shit. They would sit around and be like, “Yo, do your uncle Jose again.” I’m 7 years old, commanding this room of adults. That shit felt mad good. But then they were like, “Yo, go back to your room before we whup your ass.” And that brought me back down to earth. When you grow up broke and you don’t have shit, what you have is laughter. And hanging out with people, making jokes, fucking around, laughing at shit. Laughing at people that are more fucked-up than you, like, Damn, son, at least I got pants!
Desus: My whole family is really funny, that kind of dark, edgy, hurtful, cutthroat thing. Dinnertime would be like high school, when you’re walking down the hallway and you just want to get to class because these people gonna roast you. So it’s kind of like training. I grew up thinking people who aren’t funny just aren’t trying. It really didn’t dawn on me until I started tweeting. I was like, “Yo, being funny is not that easy for people. It comes very easily for me, but for other people, it’s not, so let’s make the most of this shit.”
Mero: I was mad high one night, and I told Desus, “Dude, do you think that LeBron knows that he’s really good at basketball?” Because the first time that he ever said, “I’m the best basketball player ever” was only a couple of years ago. But he just didn’t say it. It’s part of your upbringing to not be like, “Yo, I’m the fucking man.” I realized my sense of humor was a talent when somebody hit me up and was like, “Yo, let’s write jokes.” I was like, “What do you mean? Like write a joke down and then say it? What the fuck are you talking about? I don’t do that.”
Do you guys remember a time you got roasted really bad?
Mero: In high school one time, I couldn’t find any of my hats, and I wore one of my dad’s Kangol hats to school. Motherfuckers was just rhyming words together, like “Kango Durango.” And I was “Kangol” for like three months.
What’s your relationship like off the show?
Desus: We text each other and talk on Twitter.But he has a family. I’m out here running the streets.
Mero: Our schedules are a little different, yeah.
Desus: A lot different. Like he knows where he’s at Saturday night. Me? Not so much. A good majority of my weekend is looking through my e-mail at Uber receipts and looking at my Instagram to figure out either where I’ve been or where I’m at right now. A tip I’ve found is if you open Seamless, you can find out what neighborhood you’re in [because of geolocation]. Like, “Oh, okay, I’m in Flatbush. Cool, cool, cool.”
When [people] found my real name from magazines, they were like, “What the fuck? Your real name is not Desus?” I’m like, “Who’s going to look at a new baby and be like, ‘Yo, your name is Desus?’”
Do your kids know what you do, Mero?
Mero: They know it’s Daddy’s job to be on TV. My oldest is like, “Daddy does jokes. That’s how he gets money.” But he doesn’t know Daddy called Trump “President Cheeto” and that’s how he gets money. But I’m actually glad they don’t know much yet so they don’t start asking me for money. Because when they figure it out, they’re going to be like, “Yo, Pa, I know you got $50 to spot. Let’s get shit poppin’.”
Is your 5-year-old cracking jokes yet?
Mero: He’ll be like, “Yo, Daddy, let me tell you a joke.” I’m like, “What’s up?” He’s like, “Dogs bark loud.” I’m like, “No, no, no, no. Where’s the setup? Where’s the punch line? That’s not a joke.” But he just tells me these random statements all day, and he thinks they’re jokes. I mean Dane Cook made a career out of it. I take that back. I love Dane Cook. Shout-out to you, Dane.
What can’t go on the show? I heard you’re only allowed to say five “fucks” per show.
Desus: You can’t threaten the president. As soon as he became president, the same joke that we could have done in episodes 1 to 30, that will get you the Secret Service. You have to say “allegedly” because a lot of things we say are kind of slanderous, and the people we slander, they’re kind of litigious. If we say something about somebody and it goes viral on Twitter and Facebook or something, and they come across it, they call their lawyers, be like, “Yo, sue the shit out of these guys.”
Mero: I feel like they bleeped something about a dog licking peanut butter off of a person’s genitals. That was a no-go. You can’t call somebody a child molester on here. That’s pretty regular. But anything else, it’s like, “Yo, do you.”
Does the show give you any cachet with your parents?
Mero: No, they’re coming from the Dominican Republic, man. They’re like, “We don’t know nothing about no fucking Wiz Khalifa smoking weed and shit.”
Desus: If I’m not getting dirt under my nails, my parents are not impressed. [My mom] had the chance to meet Anthony Bourdain, she was just like, “No, it’s all right. I’ll pass. I’ll see him on TV.” It means nothing to them. If I was to own that property and shit, then they would be like, “Yo. I’m impressed.” But my mother saw me on The Wendy Williams Show a couple of weeks ago. Now it’s very real to her. She’s like, “Yo, okay, this is a real thing.” I’m like, “Lady, I have a show every single night except for Friday nights. It was a real thing then, but thank you for your begrudging support.”
Mero: I would have to appear on Sábado Gigante for that to happen with my parents, because they’re like, “Who the fuck is Wendy Williams?” My in-laws watched the show for like the first five episodes and were like, “Yo. This might be a little heavy for us, but you’re talented. Proud of ya.” Because they’re two very old white ladies. They like to watch shit like La La Land. So shout-out to them for showing support and actually tuning in live to watch the show when it’s actually like an hour past their bedtime.
So who doesn’t call you “Desus” and “Mero”?
Mero: My wife never calls me Mero. My brother calls me Yo, My N——. My mom calls me Flaquito. But I’m Mero to everybody else, man. Because Mero is not a stage name. I was Mero, the graffiti writer, the dude from East Tremont since 1990 whenever. All the people who know you from back in the day can co-sign, like, “Yo, this is the same dude. He’s not putting on airs for TV.”
Desus: There’s people who’ve known me for years and they don’t know my real name, so when they found my real name from magazines, they were like, “What the fuck? Your real name is not Desus?” I’m like, “Who’s going to look at a new baby and be like, ‘Yo, your name is Desus’?” Anytime I see a tweet or a text with my government name, I’m like, “Yo, I fucked up. I’m in some deep shit right now.”
Do you think Trump has seen it?
Desus: Has Trump seen it? No, not yet. It has to be on the Fox News radar. If a clip ever makes it to Fox & Friends, he is going to tweet about us.
Mero: Trump has definitely made himself an echo chamber where everybody is just blowing him all the time, like, “Trump is a genius. He’s the best. He’s a good business mind. He’s going to lead us into the future.” He definitely set that shit up that way. If we crack that little chamber, then we’re in trouble. Then we might get black hoods, you know what I’m saying?
If you guys could have him on, what would you ask him? What would you even start with?
Mero: That’s the thing. We’re so far removed from everything we know to be a president. There’s no fucking frame of reference for this shit except fiction. What would you do if you sat down with Biff Tannen? That’s basically what you’re asking me. So I feel like we wouldn’t even have him on because there’s no dialogue to have with this dude. He’s a fuckin’ maniac. We’re not going to sit him down and change his mindor be like, “Hey, you should be nicer to people of color and gay people and Muslims. What do you think?”
Desus: I think that’s the problem. People try to have a rational conversation with him.
Mero: You can’t.
Desus: Every interview he’s done, people have tried to steer the direction of the interview. You have to let him take it. And he’s going to take it on some wild direction about his steaks and deals and him beating Hillary. You need to sit down with him and feed into his delusion. Say to him, “Yo, why is the fake media lying about the amount of people who came to the inauguration?” You will see the full extent of how out-there he is. People make him like this wild Machiavellian strategist. He’s just an old frightened guy who’s now in this position of power. He’s shuffling around the house with his unsecured Android and shit. His wife won’t touch him. But he keeps rambling and watching Fox & Friends and basing his views off of Fox News. I think people need to see more of that and be like, “Yo, this guy is unhinged. He should not be president.” Also his steaks are nasty, and the tie thing with the tape on the back—
Mero: Very tacky.
Desus: [gesturing at me] You know that.
Mero: You’re from GQ. That’s like a total violation. Y’all should put him on a cover for that, with his face x-ed out.
There was a lot of talk about his Scotch-taped tie in the office. Of all the late-night shows, I feel like you guys go in on him more than most.
Mero: Because nobody does! Everybody is really following this blueprint of “Okay, we don’t”—like with G. W. Bush—”we don’t agree with the president, but he’s the president now. We’ve got to fall in line.” But this dude is not like a normal president. So it’s like, “Fuck you. I don’t got to fall in line.”
Desus: Of all the late-night shows, who’s going to be directly affected by Trump? Jimmy Fallon is not going to be affected by this shit. Jimmy Kimmel is not. They’re good money. They’re rich, they’re white guys. We would see it more directly. And not only that—those other talk shows are kind of culpable for him being president. Tussling his hair during an interview, and Saturday Night Live had him on as host. So they can’t be mad at him now, because they put him in the power. [Joe Scarborough on] Morning Joe even said something like “I’ve known him for ten years. He’s a good person. He’s not going to be a terrible president.” And he had to reverse that a couple of days ago, like, “Yo, I didn’t know he was going to be wild like this.” So if nobody holds him accountable, what’s even the point of us having a show?
Mero: Everybody who knows about The Central Park Five knows that Donald Trump ain’t shit and never was shit. And is never going to be shit. If you go back to that and the way he was trying to railroad them kids and have them get the death penalty and these types of wild shit, from that moment on, you’re like, this dude has no respect for human beings.
People make him like this wild Machiavellian strategist. He’s just an old frightened guy who’s now in this position of power. He’s shuffling around the house with his unsecured Android and shit.
So…are we fucked?
Mero: It’s going to take a little more than four years of Trump to completely destroy America, but you never know. Because now, the way shit happens one day to the next, shit could hit the fan. And the dude is clearly not equipped for the job. He’s in way over his head. It’s like when you put “I know Excel” on your résumé, and the first day, they’re like, “Yo, brah, catalog this whole shit. Do a hundred billion spreadsheets.” You’re like, “Oh, fuck. Oh, I hope I can Google this.” I feel like he’s Googling how to be president, right now.
Desus: I think America is fucked already. Basically America’s confidence in the election system is gone. The government, the checks-and-balances system, is out the window. Trump’s in there just making new positions, changing the EPA stuff. So I think everyone expected him, like, “Oh, shit, he’s going to start a nuclear war.” He’s not. He’s just going to poison the rivers, roll back abortion regulations. He’s not beheading America, but it’s death by a thousand cuts.
All the goodwill America has done is out the window, and he undid it in like three months. America used to be the number one country as soon as there was any kind of aid situation or earthquake or famine. People would go, “Yo, America, you got us?” And America was like, “Yo, we got you.” Even if you didn’t have oil. Sometimes we were late to respond, but we at least sent over sleeping bags. Now it’s like, “Fuck y’all.” If an earthquake happens right now in Afghanistan, and a million people are displaced, if Fox & Friends doesn’t cover it, he will never find out about it.
Mero: Growing up in the DR—that’s true poverty, true struggle, like famine. We don’t have clean water. We don’t have reliable electricity. To me, for that to happen in America would take more than four years of Trump.
Desus: If they hacked the power grid, that’s America in one week. Most people don’t realize how close to poverty America is. Do you have four days’ worth of food in your apartment? What happens on the fifth day? It won’t take much to have us turn on our neighbors and stabbing the old lady down the street because she has a can of fucking [food.]
Mero: I’m first generation, so I have 40 pounds of rice in my crib at all times and a five-gallon oil drum. I can light my own fires. I know how to kill a chicken by myself.