–Original article published on FADER (11/15/16)–
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.