Entertainment

For Showtime's Desus & Mero, the New Kings of Late Night, the Brand Is Stronger Than Ever

desus & mero
Showtime

Daniel "Desus Nice" Baker and Joel "The Kid Mero" Martinez have been in the public eye for nearly seven years. Beginning with their groundbreaking podcast, Desus vs. Mero, which premiered in 2013 -- and lasted just one year -- the comedy duo have since become an offbeat staple in the world of late night talk shows, with Desus & Mero. From Complex to MTV2 to Viceland and now Showtime, their partnership (and friendship) has only grown stronger. As has their brand.

In 2018, the duo publicly split from Viceland after claiming an unworkable environment left them scrambling to provide 160 episodes of their show for the channel with absolutely no time off. Moving to Showtime, the two have been able to spread their creative wings a bit more, landing high-profile guests like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (and a bunch of Democratic presidential candidates), Jordan Peele, Issa Rae, Zendaya, Spike Lee, and tons more, and carving out a Desus and Mero-shaped space in the crowded newsy talk show arena. A bit over a month ago, the duo began their much-deserved summer hiatus, and even though they took a break from their on-screen schedule, the talk show partners had enough on their plate to keep busy. 

First off: there's still the podcast. They may have been on a summer vacation, but each week, a new episode of Bodega Boys has graced iTunes with its presence. Secondly, the duo just completed a mini tour -- simply called Desus & Mero, Live! -- where they traveled to select cities across America to deliver their signature style of Bronx humor to the masses.

During the pair's August visit to Los Angeles, where they performed two live shows and squeezed in the fun job of hosting the TCA Awards -- a yearly award ceremony put on by the Television Critics Association -- Thrillist was invited to have lunch with the duo. Ahead of their highly-anticipated return to late night on October 14 at 11pm -- and every Monday and Thursday until their next break -- dive deep into our hard-hitting investigation as we asked, just how strong is the Desus & Mero brand? (Spoiler: Very strong, Ballbags.)

Thrillist: You guys say the brand is strong, a lot. What's the brand? 
Desus Nice:
The brand is us.

The Kid Mero: Yeah, it's us. Our outlook on everything that's going on. 

Well, of course, but were there ever meetings to solidify what that meant or expand on it?
Desus:
[Mero] came up with the term. Basically, we were doing the podcast, I think it was when we restarted the podcast, when we started Bodega Boys. We had Desus vs. Mero, the original podcast, we stopped doing MTV2. And at that time, people were always hitting us up on Twitter, like, "When we getting a new episode? When we getting a new podcast?" Like, for a year, people were asking. And people were just like, "Yo, like, y'all are done. Like, you stopped your podcast. If you start it again, you have to start from scratch." The first episode of Bodega Boys dropped on 9/11 and the response was absolutely ridiculous. And then it was like, people were calling. After the first episode, they was like, "When's the next one?" I was like, yo, fam, we just dropped an episode! It was just like, yo, these people still rock with us!

Mero: That was after the hiatus. Because after Complex, it was like… a year? Yeah, it was a full year. And still, for a year, we were getting, "Bring it back! Bring it back! Bring it back!" So then, we came back. And I think it was like Episode 2, where I was like, "Yo, the brand is strong."

Was that weird at all?
Mero:
It was kind of a joke because everything is like a brand. 

Sure, but is that sort of demand overwhelming or weird to you, at all?
Mero:
No, not at all! We've had people come up to us after our show saying stuff like, "your show…"

Desus: "...helps me with depression, got me through a death in the family."

Mero: Like, "I was going through a dark place." Or, "it brought me and my partner closer together." You know, like, we didn't have a common ground or whatever. We were on the outs, and watching the show together, now it's like appointment viewing for us. 

Desus: There was this one kid in New York and, that day, he decided he was gonna jump in front of a train. So he was just waiting for a train to come. And our podcast came up on random. He said he always had heard of it. And he had downloaded it using iTunes, you know, and he had listened to it. And he said he just sat and listened to it, and just listened to three in a row, and we stopped him from killing himself. We get stories like that all the time. There's definitely a sense of intimacy with the podcast and the show. There's never a moment where, like, we're talking to you.

Mero: And if you watch the YouTube videos, it's like, I'm here, Desus is there. And you just kind of imagine yourself right here [next to us]. That's the type of vibe that we built over the years.

And that's the brand, right there. The podcast, the TV show, and even your live shows.
Mero:
Yeah, we haven't done a proper live show in L.A. [until now]. We've done other stuff, but never a live Desus & Mero show at the theater at wherever.

desus & mero
Enjoying a pedi with Gabrielle Union. | Greg Endries/Showtime

How does the live show compare to the TV show and podcast? Do you prepare differently for one over the other?
Mero:
It's the podcast without chairs. The crowd can yell something out. Because we're looking at everything from a New York lens, right? From a Bronx lens. So it's like when we go to places like L.A. or, like, Baltimore or whatever, and it's more like, we're learning about you. Kind of like the interview vibe, where it's like, tell us about your city. And we'll just randomly guess stuff about the city. And one of the appeals is we'll get stuff totally wrong. Like, yesterday we were talking about... there's two things you never talk about in L.A.: weed and tacos. Because if you tweet your answer of the best ones, people will go, "Those are garbage, you should go to this place!"

What kind of prep work do you do for your live shows?
Desus: [Laughs] Smoke weed and drink.

Mero: Zero.

Desus: Yeah, zero prep. I mean, we might Google, like, the names of some towns. But that's about it. 

Mero: Literally the only prep work I do is just make the AKAs city specific. You know what I mean?

So then everything you talk about when you're on stage is…
Desus:
Off the cuff.

The work that you put into it is just your relationship then, right?
Desus:
Yeah, it's our relationship. All we're doing is having a conversation on stage.

That sounds more stressful than you're letting on.
Desus:
It sounds more stressful to other people. For us, it comes super naturally. And I think that's the rare thing that other duos don't have, other TV shows don't have. It's effortless for us. And that's the problem. Like, it comes so easy for us and other people see it, and they're just like, "oh, I could do that." For example, we landed on Friday, we went to Shake Shack, and we smoked weed and were sitting there at Shake Shack and we're cracking each other up. We're crying laughing and we're just dying. And it's just like that conversation we're having at Shake Shack, we could have done that on stage and that would've been crazy.

Mero: It would've killed.

Coming to watch you guys banter back and forth fills a need. People just don't talk to each other anymore, it seems. 
Mero:
Right? Because everybody's, you know, doin' this [picks up his phone and stares at it].

desus & mero
Pitching Jordan Peele on some horror movie ideas. | Greg Endries/Showtime

There's an authenticity and pride that comes through in your podcast, the Showtime show and everything else you do, which is integral. You'd think that type of authenticity wouldn't be too difficult to find. But, how do I say this? Vice Live, the show they initially replaced your show with on Viceland, was… not good. 
Mero:
People think that they can just do the *NSYNC thing and just put a bunch of people of color together, and then be like, "Go!" Like, "oh, you guys have a good podcast, it'll be great on TV. Go!" That's not the case.

Desus: It doesn't work like that. That show, Vice Live, I watched a couple of episodes and I felt really bad for the hosts. Those are people we know. We're friends on Twitter. I know exactly what happened. They probably were just like, "Yo, this is our chance!" People probably were like, "Yo, this is not a good look for you." But any chance to be on TV, you've got to take it. And, you know, it wasn't necessarily their fault it didn't work out. But it's too many cooks in the kitchen. 

That was the biggest thing I noticed. And each episode was going for like... two hours?
Desus:
Too much was going on. It wasn't clearly defined what the show exactly was. And, you know, they definitely were like, "here's four hosts with diverse, different backgrounds, hope this'll work out." And they just put them on camera without seeing if there was chemistry. Whereas we have chemistry off camera, which you can't replicate. You can't force that, you can't make people have chemistry just because the camera's on. 

Speaking of chemistry, have you given up the Timon and Pumbaa dreams?
Desus:
No.

Mero: Never.

You didn't even take a second to think about your answer.
Mero:
There's gonna be another [Lion King movie], of course.

Desus: We're doing our own urban spinoff: Timon and Pumbaa in the Bronx. Alright, Disney? And if you send us a cease and desist, I'll fight you.

Assuming we'll eventually see this come to fruition in one of your skits. You do skits on the podcast all the time. Were these something you've always wanted to do on TV?
Mero:
Yeah. In the podcast, it's just audio. And the previous TV show was just kind of like pantomiming. It was very improv UCB. And we were just thinking like, "man, wouldn't it be dope to actually flesh this out and make it into an actual sketch?" So characters from the podcast like Benzo the Clown... and, like, we were talking about Green Book. Like, "yo, this movie is so hamfisted." It's nuts and nobody else was talking about how hamfisted and over-the-top this was. We were like, "let's do it!" On any of our previous platforms, we wouldn't have had the resources to do that. With Showtime, we did and it was just like [let's go!].

When you guys shoot a new episode and you're sitting there watching the clips, it seems like you're watching them for the first time.
Desus:
We are. We've always worked that way. Like, do not show us the clips. We don't even know… the writers will write the toss to the video.

Mero: Like, the title card.

Desus: But they don't tell us what is in the video. They're just like, "Yo, sometimes cars are weird." And then it's like a thing of like a polar bear fucking a truck. You want the initial reaction.

At Viceland and Complex, were you getting notes from producers to pull things back at all?
Desus:
For certain channels, for FCC reasons, you have to censor some stuff.

Mero: FCC reasons, sponsorships, stuff like that.

Desus: Even, like, moral codes for different countries. That was one problem we had with the Viceland show. You have to edit certain clips. Certain clips you could show for the Australian version of the show, but you can't show it for the New Zealand version of the show, or the English version. And then you have to change the night show. The version that came on at 11pm was different than the version that aired at 9am. So you kind of have that problem. Showtime doesn't have that problem. But no one's ever pushed back on us. If anything, sometimes we know we're going too far and we'll stop ourselves. 

There hasn't really been much political content in the show recently. Is that by choice?
Mero:
It's just kind of like, talking about Trump is like beating a dead horse at this point.

Desus: Fatigue has set in. 

Mero: It's oversaturated. It's on every other late night show. Our whole thing, we're not trying to be different. But we're just doing what we want to do. And it just happens to be different than what everybody else is doing.

But you're repping New York, the state he's from. Is there a responsibility there at all?
Mero:
It's like that weird familiarity with somebody where it's like, "I'm setting you up on a date with somebody," and like, I know that person is a terrible person. You know what I mean? Like, I should be a good friend and warn you and say, "Hey, look, I've known this person for 20, 30 years and they're not a good person." You know what I mean? And most New Yorkers knew. Donald Trump is a grifter. Like, he's a fucking real estate grifter. He got into TV and was a reality TV show star. And he was just kind of like, you know, a Page Six kind of guy in New York. All at the debutante type of shit and he was just like a rich scumbag. And that's the view that most New Yorkers have of Trump. And then he ran for president and then he got middle America to believe that he was not that guy. And he pandered to them and all this stuff, and here we are.

desus & mero
Desus and Mero and Lil Nas X. | Greg Endries/Showtime

This may be an existential question, but do you think your show would still be a hit if you weren't from the Bronx?
Desus:
No.

Mero: I don't think it might hit like that. Just because it's like, okay, these guys are from the Bronx, they're people of color and, like, this is something that's a new phenomenon. People don't talk about the Bronx. You talk about New York. It's like, "oh, such a nice city! Beautiful Midtown Manhattan!" And then, like the skyscrapers and the beauty and blah blah blah. They don't get into the actual the outer boroughs, the real flavor of New York, which is the multicultural everything. You can go get Greek food on this block and get Jamaican over here. You know, it's a mishmash of everything. And everybody's living together. And I don't think that happens in a lot of other places.

What's the one thing, if you can only choose one thing, you hope your audience takes away from the podcast, the Showtime show, your live shows, all of that? Is there one goal?
Mero:
Well, first of all, you've got to laugh. Second of all…

I said one thing.
Mero:
...second of all, we give you the sugar with the medicine, you know what I mean?  

Mero Poppins in the building.
Mero:
Yeah, a little bit of medicine with the sugar. There's truth in all the jokes that we tell. Recognize those truths within those jokes. As I always say, the best art is honest art. 

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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Aaron Pruner is a contributor to Thrillist.