In the first of the series of Desus and Mero, co-hosts Daniel “Desus Nice” Baker and Joel “The Kid Mero” Martinez walk into a New York City classroom ready to be clowned around. “Late night for the people!” Desus announces to a room of unimpressed elementary school students. The children immediately launch questions and roasts: “Do you have children? “What were you doing before TV?” “Aren’t you guys who got dragged by DJ Envy on The breakfast clubThe skit ends with a girl saying, “You seem a little too ghetto to be on TV.”
The commentary (scripted, I’m sure) noted the obvious: neither Desus nor Mero looked, sounded or acted like other traditional late-night hosts, many of whom are wealthy men whites in suits. Desus and Mero — of Jamaican and Dominican descent, respectively — had heavy New York accents, wore casual clothes, and swore openly and often. But more importantly, they openly embraced their connection to a version of the city that the elementary school classroom represented: a New York populated primarily by working-class and immigrant families, where more than two-thirds of residents are people of color, mostly black or Latino.
When Desus and Mero’s show debuted on Showtime in 2019, the Bronx-born duo looked set to usher in a new era of late-night television. When Season 2 premiered a year later, David Letterman called them the “future” of the industry. The show continued its momentum, with guests as varied as Eddie Murphy, Sandra Bullock and Chris Smalls, who organized the Amazon syndicate in Staten Island. But then, last month, Showtime announced that the series would not be returning for a fifth season. The hosts were ending their creative partnership, including, much to the chagrin of thousands of viewers and listeners, their long-running popular podcast, Bodega Boys.
The reason for the show’s cancellation is unclear. In a recent interview, Mero said he and Desus had been discussing the split for over a year. Yet during the June Season 4 finale, Mero said the series would only be taking a summer hiatus, and shortly before Showtime’s announcement, fans were speculating tension between the duo. Whatever the exact cause, the end of Desus and Mero is a loss not only to their fan base – dubbed Bodega Hive – but also to the wider television landscape. The show was aimed at New Yorkers who grew up or live in the neighborhood, provided a space for black celebrities to portray themselves as themselves, and created a space where black men in particular could listen to conversations that resembled those they might have with friends.
The Desus and Mero set, a departure from typical late-night studios, captured the show’s ethos. The co-hosts sat side by side on a low stage, with no desks separating them from the audience or their guests. Interviews first took place at a graffiti cluttered table (designed by Mero) and more recently on a bodega-inspired tray filled with candy, beer, Jesus candles, toilet paper and a display stand. of sneakers. Most props carried either the Desus and Mero logo or one of their slogans. (The brand was, as they always said, strong.) The flags of their two islands were always present, as were bottles of liquor made to imitate Brugal, a Dominican rum. Desus and Mero wore Timbs, puffer jackets and fitted caps – a uniform familiar to Bronx natives and many of the city’s black and Latino residents. Mero, in particular, often wore Dominican paraphernalia, whether it was an Águilas sweatshirt (for one of the country’s baseball teams) or clothes from local Latino-owned brands.
The duo’s path to fame was unlike that taken by many other late-night entertainers: going to a prestigious improv school, getting hired at Saturday Night Live, then wait your turn for a solo break. Desus had been a strip club manager, mechanic, and bartender before working in the media; Mero has held jobs in IT and as a special education paraprofessional. Their backgrounds featured prominently on the show and allowed them to step into comedic territory that other late-night hosts either didn’t want to or just couldn’t touch.
Take, for example, Desus’ mocking defense of basketball player Tristan Thompson, which referenced the stereotype that Caribbean men cheat on their partners. “You know us Jamaicans. We are loyal,” he said in one episode. And then, after a pause: “to all our families”. They often mentioned Dominicans bringing spaghetti to the beach (if you know, you know) and the regular fights that break out in restaurants on City Island. At times, the co-hosts joked about drug addiction in black neighborhoods, stops and frisks, and threats from their parents to send them back to the islands when they disobeyed them. Although ostensibly dark, these moments reflect the humor that people dealing with these daily indignities use to cope. The cultural specificity kept them close to their New York roots and their goal of creating a late night show “for the people”.
Late-night shows also depend on celebrity access and memorable conversations, and Desus and Mero gave black stars a late-night space where they didn’t have to code-switch. In a Season 1 interview with the Black Panther actors Winston Duke and Lupita Nyong’o, the hosts, pulled out a photo of Duke wearing leather flip flops — the “official shoes of every African or West Indian dad,” Desus observed. Duke had been called out by his Instagram followers for wearing open-toed sandals during construction work around the house. “And then you see all the Caribbean coming up like, ‘What’s the matter?'” Duke recalled. “These are ordinary shoes.” They talked about the expectations of immigrant parents, and Duke mimicked the accents of his family members. During the Season 4 premiere, the hosts spoke with Denzel Washington (who was promoting Macbeth’s Tragedy) on having an overprotective mother and growing up in Mount Vernon, near the Bronx. Mero dubbed the actor “Hollyhood.” (In contrast, Washington spent most of his appearance on another Shakespeare-quoting show with the white host.) Desus and Mero also introduced people who might otherwise not have been welcome late at night. , including bodega owners; strippers; rapper Bobby Shmurda, who had been in prison for more than six years; and local internet celebrities such as Long Islanders Bigtime Tommie and DJ Vinny Dice.
The couple didn’t have much regard for the politics of respectability or political correctness. The word N was used regularly, as was the term drugs to designate drug addicts. Desus and Mero’s refusal to self-censor was part of their appeal and mirrored conversations you might hear on East Fordham Road in the Bronx or Jamaica Avenue in Queens. Still, they might be quick to correct themselves if they said something rude. For a bit on a CIA Pride Month tweet, in which the agency posted a message of support from its gay service members with a photo of a combat helmet with rainbow-colored ammo sky, Desus mocked “gay bullets”. But he immediately stopped: “Why do we call them gay balls?” These moments showed the co-hosts’ openness to growth and respect for changing public sentiment on social issues.
Over the seasons, the couple’s stature grew. They became friends with celebrities and their newfound fame seemed to fuel their disagreements about what was or wasn’t appropriate to say on air. Desus in particular seemed more concerned with maintaining professional relationships. (In a segment of Mariah Carey’s 2021 Holiday campaign with McDonald’s, Desus backed down from Mero’s suggestion that the singer wore shapewear. “When we finally interview her, she’ll ask about that comment,” he said.) Although the two maintained their irreverent, raunchy, off-the-cuff humor, Mero seemed to stay away from the bright world that opened up to them accordingly. from the show – in large part because he was a family man with four children – and Desus often looked away or walked away from Mero’s potentially offensive comments. “Hollywood Desus” became a running joke between them and the Bodega Hive, though those jokes seemed less lighthearted by Season 4. At times, that tension made the show less fun to watch.
But no matter the growing pains, having Desus and Mero make the jump to television was a seismic achievement. Since the series premiered in 2019, other shows filling a similar void have popped up. In HBO Break with Sam Jay, for example, comedian Sam Jay brings together friends, including formerly incarcerated, public servants and other entertainers, for wide-ranging conversations on issues such as capitalism, conspiracy theories and LGBTQ education in the schools. But no series offers the authenticity and local perspective of Desus and Mero. The loss of the show means one less space for people who grew up in the neighborhood to feel seen and welcomed and, most importantly, not judged – as Desus has always said, “God is working on all of us.”