9:13am PT by Scott Feinberg
'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Desus Nice and The Kid Mero ('Desus & Mero')
"There was no Bronx representation on TV, so people embraced us," Desus Nice, seated beside The Kid Mero at the CBS Broadcast Center offices of Showtime's first-ever late-night show Desus & Mero, says as we discuss their rise to prominence, during an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter podcast. "We are legends in the Bronx." To someone unfamiliar with the duo, who are 38 and 36, respectively, this might sound braggadocious, but anyone familiar with who they are — from their Bodega Boys podcast or either incarnation of their TV show, which aired on Viceland from 2016 through 2018 before moving to Showtime on Feb. 21 — knows that it's simply a point of fact. And, with each new episode of Desus & Mero, which airs on Mondays and Thursdays at 11 p.m. ET/PT, more and more people are getting familiar with them. Moreover, according to The New York Times, theirs is now the late-night show with "the most diverse audience and the youngest: 35 on average."
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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below.
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Desus (Daniel Baker) and Mero (Joel Martinez) are both first-generation Americans, the children of working-class immigrants from Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, respectively. Desus was born in the Bronx, which he calls "the greatest borough in the world," and Mero moved there from Washington Heights early in life and is just as proud to call it home; both pay homage to it and its denizens by making an 'X' sign with their arms at every opportunity. Their no-nonsense surroundings — to which they sometimes take outsiders on "hood safaris" — helped to mold their senses of humor. "Growing up in a New York City school," Desus explains, "you just learned to be really quick, because if you weren't the biggest person, you couldn't beat someone up, but if you could say a jab ... that took you far in life."
The two men first crossed paths while in summer school as teens, but they didn't really get to know each other for many years thereafter. Desus went off to the College of Mount Saint Vincent and graduated; Mero started at Hunter College and dropped out. Each then held a wide variety of real-world jobs. Desus did freelance computer programming, website design and server administration, worked at the New York Public Library and as a bartender, managed nightclubs and reported for a financial magazine; Mero, meanwhile, worked in the mailroom and then the IT department for Lehman Brothers, at a beauty supply shop and as a special education teacher. Both were barely scraping by.
When Twitter arrived on the scene, Desus and Mero instinctively employed the platform as a place to blow off steam and crack jokes about their lives and community. Eventually, through shared references and acquaintances, they found and began bouncing jokes off of each other. Among those who noticed their chemistry was a friend of Mero's who was tasked with developing new content for Complex, a youth-oriented lifestyle portal. He reached out to the two about coming on as freelancers and doing a podcast together. They were both broke and had casually discussed creating a podcast before, so they took a leap of faith, left their jobs and started podcasting for Complex in 2013. "It took off very quickly," Desus says. Indeed, within days, Complex added a video element. "People loved it because there was nothing like it," Mero emphasizes.
After two years at Complex, Desus and Mero left for a new deal with MTV2, as part of which they had to abandon their original podcast to focus full-time on television appearances. The network, however, wasn't sure how to effectively mobilize them and, while trying to figure it out, acquiesced to their request to start a new podcast (which the duo would still own). Known as Bodega Boys, the once-a-week show, which continues to this day, focuses mostly on issues local and/or of interest to Black Twitter — and its listeners, since nicknamed the 'Bodega Hive,' can't get enough of it. The loyalty runs in both directions: Desus and Mero seem to regard the Hive as their base and moral compass, and there was never any question that the two would continue to do the podcast even after their one-year MTV2 deal expired and they landed a TV show of their own for the first time, with a much heavier workload. As Desus puts it, "The podcast is never going anywhere."
Desus & Mero debuted on Viceland shortly before the 2016 presidential election, airing four nights a week at 11 p.m. ET/PT. Many questioned if a show hosted by people with Desus and Mero's accents, attire and Bronx-centric references could resonate nationwide, but it did. Why? "It's authenticity," Desus says. "People know it's the real deal. It can't be faked." Adds Mero, "There are no cultural commentators that we know of that are doing it through the lens that we are doing it through. That aspect of it was huge."
The grind of doing four shows a week for not very much pay eventually wore down the duo, and as their Viceland contract wound down, they began entertaining offers from competitors. Mero says at least three expressed interest, including Netflix, but they were drawn to Showtime both because of network execs' familiarity with and enthusiasm for their prior work, and because they saw an opportunity to be a big fish in a relatively small pond. "We were like, 'We could fill that blank slate,'" Desus explains. "'We could go to that channel and possibly be the biggest thing that channel has.' We wouldn't necessarily have that chance at other channels."
Their Showtime show, which debuted in the spring with Bronx congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as their first guest, differs from their Viceland show in a few specific ways. It airs less frequently — originally just once a week, since upped to twice a week. ("We asked for it," Desus says, as Mero adds, "You know you're doing something right when the only criticism you're getting is, 'This isn't enough.'") They now have a large support staff, including seven writers, to help shoulder the load and produce pre-shot segments like their recent Green Book parody "The Greenest Book." And they are drawing great guests for interviews that, even if not exactly well-researched, often prove rather revealing — among them, Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, John Legend, Lin-Manuel Miranda and three of the Democrats' 2020 presidential candidates, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand and Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
What remains on their bucket list? "To give an Emmy acceptance speech," Desus responds without a moment's hesitation. "Yes! Oh, yeah, for real," Mero enthusiastically seconds, adding, "We won a Webby, but the Webby thing was like, 'You can give a five-word acceptance speech.' I was like, 'Are you fucking kidding me?!'"