Showtime’s Desus & Mero is not for background viewing. Viewers have to strain to listen, to make sure they’re not missing the latest throwaway joke or tangent from Desus Nice (Daniel Baker) and The Kid Mero (Joel Martinez), who host the premium-cable network’s first late-night talk show.
The duo keeps you on the edge of your seat, and that means everything in this high-stakes world of distracted viewers. It’s the same in real life: They finish each other’s sentences, jump in when one feels the other is rambling or quickly pick up on a riff, raising their voice to match the other’s enthusiasm.
Desus and Mero first crossed paths as teens in summer school in the Bronx (though they weren’t close then) and reconnected six years ago on Twitter, which they both used as an outlet to complain about their day jobs (a small-business reporter and junior high school paraprofessional, respectively). Their witty online banter quickly got them attention. “People really enjoyed any time we interacted with each other on Twitter,” Desus says. Complex noticed too. The media company offered them a podcast, Desus vs. Mero, and soon after developed a web series around the pair. By 2014, they were joining the cast of MTV’s The Guy Code.
Craving creative control, the pair launched their own podcast in 2015, dubbing it Bodega Boys. It was an instant success and hurtled them into a whole new league of stardom complete with merchandising, acting opportunities and a late-night show four nights a week on Viceland. Last year, Showtime announced it was producing its first late-night weekly series, and it would be hosted by, well, you know who.
Now Desus and Mero’s legacy includes their regular podcast, a soon-to-be-published life-advice book from Random House, a five-city summer tour and a gig hosting the Television Critics Association Awards this August. Desus & Mero, their Showtime series, recorded live in front of a studio audience in New York, has been so successful with the Bodega Hive (their nickname for their passionate fan base) that the network announced in April it was giving the duo two weekly slots for the summer.
To say the least, it has been a wild ride for the former small-business reporter and junior high school paraprofessional—and for viewers too. There have never been late-night hosts this diverse (Desus is Jamaican and Mero, Dominican), this candid or this Bronx. How could we resist kicking off this year’s Creative 100 with them?
Adweek: Do you ever look around and feel surprised that you’ve gotten here so quickly?
Desus: Our lives are so good. My biggest fear is I’m going to wake up in bed one morning and my phone is going off and it’s like my boss, like, “Why aren’t you here? You got to do a small-business article.” I’m like, “No, no, no!”
Mero: Getting on TV was not that hard. Staying on TV is the hard part. You’ve always got to evolve and get out of your comfort zone, but at the end of the day you’re going to get Desus and you’re going to get Mero. You’re not going to get some weird, watered-down version … unless the check is fucking immaculate.
Why did you make the move last year from Viceland to Showtime?
Desus: It was a business decision because our contract was up at Vice, but shout out to Showtime—how can I say this without it sounding terrible?
Mero: They give us room to do what we need to do while having our back, resource-wise.
Desus: It’s like when you hang with your mother and then you go see your grandmother. Showtime was like, “Come here, baby. Did you eat? What do you need?” They’ve got like a platter of ribs for you.
And now you’re on two nights a week for the summer. Was that something you pitched to Showtime?
Desus: We went to them. The fans were used to four nights a week. And they were like, “Every time your show comes on, it’s like you’re just warming up. We’re just getting used to seeing you and then boom, it’s 11:30.” Shout out to the fans.
Mero: Bodega Hive, ahh ahh ahh!
Desus: Our fans are so loyal, and they fuck with us so hard. The relationship is just different than other late-night shows. It’s a more intimate relationship. The Bodega Hive, they’ve been there for two of his kids’ births. They’ve been there for the death of my dogs, my new dog and stuff. The relationship is much deeper. They protect us. They cling to us. We expected them [Showtime] to blow smoke up our ass and just pacify us and start an email chain that goes nowhere. [But] they did not bullshit us.
Mero: We dropped the median age of the [Showtime] viewer like five years. That means a lot.
Desus: We’ve made the channel browner and younger.
Showtime’s a bigger platform, but were you ever concerned that they would stifle your creativity or become more hands-on than Viceland?
Desus: Showtime has been extremely hands-off. Showtime knows how to make good shows. Showtime has been hands-off enough that they realize that too many chefs in the kitchen, you’re going to ruin the dinner.
Mero: We have a team of people, but they function off of us. They don’t just sit down and be like, “I’m going to write some random shit.” It’s just like, all right, we’re going to sit down, we’re going to have a creative meeting.
When you’re doing the show, a lot of it is riffing off one another, but I’m sure the crowd plays into that when you’re recording in-studio.
Desus: We love the audience in there.
Mero: It’s funny because it’s like the audience in the back is louder than the audience in the front. I think the audience in the front thinks they can’t laugh too hard and shit? ’Cuz they don’t want to ruin the vibe or whatever. But I’m like, “Yo, laugh, motherfucker. I’m drunk as shit.”
How drunk, though? On a scale of 1 to 10?
Mero: Like a 3 1/2.
Desus: I wouldn’t even go that far. We’re not smacked like we used to be—the old show, we used to be flying.
Twitter has been such a big platform for you. Has it changed the entry point for comedians?
Desus: It sounds wild, but most comedians are terrible at Twitter. I have no idea how to explain it. Maybe it’s the format. Maybe it’s people are so used to writing jokes and the joke has to develop and breathe and 180 characters is too constricting for it. But there is a group of people who are funny online and funny on Twitter and funny on Instagram. The problem with social media is making that jump from online to real life, and that’s very hard. I’m not saying [Twitter] made it easier; it just made it different. It’s changed the game with some people.
Mero: I feel like it made more comedians more accessible, but the bar is still there. Like you still have to be funny.
You ask each of your guests this, so I’m going to ask you: What would your neon sign say?
Desus: “If you see this guy, do not accept checks from him.” And it’d be a picture of Mero. No, “You gotta be in it to win it.” If you’re not really trying to make something happen, it’s not going to. You can’t just sit there passively like, “Yo, when is it my turn?” We actively had to put ourselves out there to get to where we’re at now. If you don’t believe in yourself like that, you’re probably not going to be that successful with it.
Mero: Mine would be, “Make it happen.” Triple underscore “make.” Also, in parentheses, “I’m doing this shit so I can buy my kids golden Jet Skis.”
View Adweek’s Creative 100 gallery for 2019 to discover more about this year’s honorees.