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‘Desus & Mero’ Is Here to Revolutionize Late-Night TV

An inside look at how the Bronx duo landed their own Viceland talk show

Viceland/Ringer illustration
Viceland/Ringer illustration

Desus Nice: People are gonna be like, “Yo, these two comedians shoulda got a show instead of Desus and Mero.” If y’all feel that way, you know what I mean —

The Kid Mero: Go ahead, go do it.

Desus: Let them do 162 episodes without writers, you know what I’m saying?

Mero: Go ahead, my n*gga, hit the gym.

Desus: Come through.

Mero: Do them diamond pushups, n*gga. Get your funny muscle poppin’.

Desus: Come clear the rack with us, brother.

Desus Nice and The Kid Mero are not comedians in the traditional sense. “We’re conversational,” says Desus, sitting in the vast, tastefully decorated, mostly empty backyard garden of Vice’s Williamsburg headquarters. Desus and his partner, Mero, have just finished a lively dress rehearsal for their new Viceland show and have made their way outside on this lovely fall day to — what else — talk more shit. Mero, blunt in hand, adds: “Our shit’s observational. It’s like shit that we see, you know what I mean? We wasn’t saying like, ‘Yo, white people smell like wet dogs,’ just out of nowhere. Like I was on the 4 train and two Irish n*ggas got on and they smelled like a wet dog.”

So: Desus & Mero, premiering Monday at 11 p.m. ET, is a different kind of nightly talk show. It’s loosely structured and (mostly) unrehearsed, propelled by the tag-team banter between its headliners: two distinct, acerbic Bronx personalities who first made their names on Twitter, then a Complex podcast turned video show, and most recently, a stint on MTV2. The topics on Desus & Mero are broad, ranging from politics (Trump supporter envy) to sports (J.R. Smith Da Gawd) to viral internet videos (go to WorldStar and pick one). The hosts’ perspectives are extremely specific — cue references to phlebotomists, NBA jeans, and Money House Blessing — and heretofore largely unheard on TV.

The formula, however, is more familiar: “Two really smart people with chemistry,” as Desus & Mero executive producer Erik Rydholm once said, “talking about something that’s relevant.” He was speaking then, in 2011, about Pardon the Interruption, the ESPN staple he created over a decade ago. Thus Desus & Mero has its precedents, and a team with the right pedigree: Along with Rydholm, the show has the enthusiastic cosign of Viceland president of programming Nick Weidenfeld, formerly of Adult Swim, and network copresident Spike Jonze. All three are bullish on making Desus & Mero a tentpole of the eight-month-old network — and, in the process, redefining what a late-night talk show can be.

The question that followed the duo’s initial rise — Can online stars succeed IRL? — has been answered affirmatively, at least in the sense that two guys with Twitter accounts can make a living off their jokes. But now that question has been replaced by another one: How big of an audience can Desus & Mero ultimately reach?

Desus: Complex was weird because we were just starting out. We both still had jobs.

Mero: We was at a different stage of our lives. We were just two dudes at regular jobs basically, like, doing this experiment. Like, we’re going to try this new shit.

Desus: That was really two kids from the Bronx on Desus Vs. Mero, because it was like, yo, I had to go back home to the hood. I had a job and I wasn’t even making enough to pay my rent. I had to wear a suit every day of the week — I only owned two suits. So imagine how tight I was. I was living like Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness, without the kid. You shouldn’t have to go through life like that. It’s going to make you very angry.

Mero: I was at my job on 176 St. in Morris — like, just Google map that. And 15-year-old kids out of junior high school would be like, “Yo, suck my dick n*gga. I’ll fuck you up. You pussy, n*gga.” I’m like, “Yo! I know your uncle.” So I’m over here beefing with kids all day and helping them with their homework at the same time — like, I’m seeing all kinds of fucked-up shit with kids. And I got a kid, so I’m like, “This is the future, ahhh.” I’m all fucked up in the head. I was very angry back then. I’m making 20K a year after taxes, you know what I mean?

The first iteration of Desus and Mero was launched three years ago on a Complex podcast called Desus Vs. Mero. As a deputy editor at Complex, I put the show together; securing their participation was as easy as emailing Desus, whom I originally knew through his biting posts on the Okayplayer.com message boards, and then finagling a contact for Mero. They were two of the most consistently funny people I had ever read on Twitter.

Desus and Mero weren’t yet full-fledged friends, but from that very first recording, their chemistry was uncanny. This was as much due to their similarities — both being immigrant sons who grew up loving sports and rap in the Bronx in the ’80s — as it was their differences. Desus, whose family is from Jamaica, had a caustic wit that he was forced to repress during office hours at a staid, full-time publishing job. Mero, a Dominican American with a wife and family, was the more outwardly cheerful of the two, despite toiling as a low-paid aide at a Bronx junior high.

Their commentary was off the cuff and funny, peppered with inside-Bronx references, but it also had edge. “If you listen to the original podcast,” Desus says now, “we’re like, ‘Yo, no one’s ever going to hear this.’ We’re talking I-am-angry-at-celebrity shit. Like ‘Yo, you got money. I got problems. I’m about to flame you.’” Nobody, with the exception of a few sacred cows (French Montana, Derek Jeter), was safe from getting roasted. “I feel like if I can fade you,” says Mero, “then I can say whatever.”

On the mic, Desus was the point guard and Mero threw down the alley-oops, sometimes breaking out into spontaneous voice impressions. (His Dominican cab driver and Arab-speaking deli owner are legendary.) In those early episodes, the “versus” in Desus Vs. Mero did sometimes seem apropos. Desus was dominant; Mero often deferred, laughing after Desus’s punch lines. Fans on Twitter would declare winners after each episode. “I feel like initially in the first podcast that we had chemistry, but it’s like getting reps with somebody,” says Desus. “You start to get with each other’s rhythm and shit, and you can get your shit off more, while they get their shit off more, too. It’s KD-and-Westbrook-type shit — if they stayed together.”

Complex TV soon relaunched Desus Vs. Mero as a weekly video show, and a growing cult following begat press coverage — Entertainment Weekly, then Vulture — but the YouTube views didn’t quite follow. By the start of 2015, Desus and Mero were poached by Viacom for a real TV gig.

Desus and Mero signed three-year deals with MTV2; they exited before the end of Year 2. Predictably, their humor was neutered at the network; denied the free rein they were accustomed to, they were instead dropped into “be funny for 15 seconds” boxes on overstuffed shows like Guy Code, Jokin’ Off, and Uncommon Sense. “[MTV2] has a certain brand, a certain aesthetic that they have going through all their shows and all their programming, which is cool. It works for them. It’s not really us,” says Desus. “When it was time for the show to come out, we’d get the email from S&P [standards and practices] that’s like, ‘Here’s what we removed from your episode.’ It’s like, ‘n*gga, n*gga, gun, gun, shit, shit, shit, bitch, gun, crack, crack, crack, weed.’” Mero jumps in: “‘Weed, weed, pantomime.’ Shit was wild. But yo, what I will say about MTV2 — when we first got there this lady, Myra, told me: ‘This isn’t your last stop.’ Like, y’all are going beyond this. She said, ‘Treat this shit like undergrad.’”

Meanwhile, over at the newly launched Viceland, the execs were watching from afar. Weidenfeld, already a fan of Desus Vs. Mero, had noticed the pair languishing on MTV2. “This is criminal that you have people under contract that are this funny internally and they do not have their own show,” he says now. He imagined teaming them up for a talk show for Viceland, and in turn recruited Rydholm, also a DVM fan, to executive produce. (“If I don’t know how to do it, let’s just go to the person who is best at it,” says Weidenfeld.)

In late September, Viceland announced its first nightly talk show: Desus & Mero.

Mero: We had a meeting and Spike Jonze came in and said, “How do we not fuck this up?” First thing he said, verbatim.

Three years after their first recording, Desus and Mero are at a studio in Vice headquarters cracking jokes. The premiere is less than a week away, and there are still procedural kinks to be ironed out — tweaks to the set design, the timing and delivery of intros and outros — but the mood is light and loose. A staff of a dozen sits offstage as a producer on a laptop feeds the duo with talking points. The jokes — on Trump, Barack Obama, Ken Bone, Janet Jackson, Paul Pierce — come fast, unbridled, and furious. Over the course of 90 minutes, they record three loose segments: a PTI-like rundown covering a list of current topics, an interview with ex-Gawker writer Cord Jefferson, and a rapid-fire “This Day in History”/shoutouts section. Laughter is frequent, both in front of and behind the camera. Mero puffs a vape pen in between setups.

In many ways Viceland feels like the perfect landing spot for the duo, from the general no-fucks-given ethos of the parent company down to the construction Timbs on the stuffed grizzly that looms behind them on set. “On the other networks, it’s like, ‘Here’s the format, y’all sit in this format,’” says Mero. “Erik was like, ‘Yo, here’s y’all, we’re going to build a format around what y’all do.’” The show will tape Mondays-Thursdays and be cut down into the 30-minute episodes that air on Viceland the same evenings.

As would-be late-night stars, the metrics of success for the duo have changed. They still have a popular podcast (Bodega Boys) but on TV they are now peers with, if not outright competitors of, John Oliver, Jimmy Fallon, and Jimmy Kimmel. (“No shots at John Oliver, but he got a teleprompter with all his jokes written in it,” says Mero.) How broadly Desus & Mero plays is dependent on if audiences are ready for, as Rydholm puts it, “a wonderful, joyous mess” of an unscripted late-night show. “There’s people who, if they give the comedy a chance, will be like, ‘Yo, this is something different. I’m not getting this anywhere else,’” says Desus. “Like, ‘I might be offended at first but once I get into the flow of it, like yo, this is humor. I like this.’” Mero quickly pipes in: “And also, I’m sorry, n*ggas are from New York. New York is fucking cool.”

Not that there aren’t some new worries, now that their fame is reaching a new level. “It’s hard to, like, trust it, you know what I mean?” says Desus. “Like, this is cool but I’m like, yo, is something bad gonna happen? Is the feds gonna fucking raid me? ‘Yo, did you fire a gun in 1993? Is your fingerprint on this shit?’ I’m like, ‘What?’”

Mero theatrically yells: “No! Noo! Nooo!”

Desus continues: “It’s like, ‘Viceland’s Desus Nice’ on the cold-case files. Just one fucking cop got obsessed with the thing for like 20 years — working on it in his spare time. Shit broke up his marriage. ‘I’m gonna get this Desus guy.’”

Provided that doesn’t happen, Desus & Mero is on schedule to film over 160 episodes this season. Viceland will be monitoring the show’s ratings, but — as has been its wont thus far — likely keeping them close to the vest. “We’re committed to making this work,” says Weidenfeld. “We can only really evaluate this based on the quality of the work and our belief in it because we’re still new as a network.” In the meantime, the hosts themselves are confident that what has gotten them this far won’t fail them now. “I started having anxiety about, what if this doesn’t go right?” says Mero. “Know what I did? I got on Twitter and started reading some of Desus’s old tweets. I started looking at our old shit, I started looking at DVM and my old blog posts and everything we’ve done collectively. I’m like, ‘Yo, we can’t lose.’ This shit is a no-brainer.”