Desus and Mero turn black Twitter into prestige television
Updated: Jul 24, 2018
On June 18, Showtime announced that Desus Nice (Daniel Baker) and The Kid Mero (Joel Martinez) will host the network’s first ever weekly late-night talk show in 2019, following their departure from their popular Viceland show Desus & Mero. It’s been a fairy-tale trajectory for the Bronx natives whose online prescence got them the Complex podcast/web series Desus v. Mero and appeared on multiple MTV2 shows before landing their first hosting gig on cable television. Not to mention, they have an outrageously funny podcast called Bodega Boys. For the past year and half, daily YouTube clips of Desus & Mero have been an integral part of my morning routine. In a uniquely laid-back and no-frills setting (except for a lifelike bear wearing Timberlands in the backdrop), the two react to viral videos and news clips in real time, ranging from dancing police officers to McDonald’s drive-thru scammers, before interviewing an “illustrious guest.” In a recent episode, Desus and Mero played royal wedding commentators, donning their best Kensington garb (tuxedos, chains and sneakers) and phony British accents while heckling at footage of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s annulment. Mero quipped that Duchess Camilla was saying the n-word under her giant pink hat, while Desus joked that Markle originally requested to walk down the aisle to Cardi B’s “Money Bag.” It’s these effortless one-liners and references to pop culture or “the culture” that define their bona-fide rapport with a specific audience.
Think of black Twitter personified. It’s an ambience that overwhelms the Internet but hardly translates to late-night television due to the unavoidable presence of straight, white men. The brilliance of the show is that it undermines the concerted effort (and money) it takes to create programs like NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon or CBS’s The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and long-winded segments like Seth Meyers’ “A Closer Look” simply by employing a black perspective. It’s also what makes their podcast — an unstructured, explicit flow of consciousness filled with Bronx and generic hood references — a piece of art, as their fans refer to it. As Desus phrased it in a now infamous interview with The Breakfast Club, both shows are “a way for [people] to go to the hood without going to the hood.”
When it comes to our current political climate, there’s a unique comfort in the online presence of black folk and our ability to laugh at painful circumstances that’s infiltrated through the show. Take the #IfSlaveryWasAChoice hashtag that emerged in response to Kanye West’s comments about slavery on TMZ this past May. The humorous rebuttal, which lasted for multiple days on Twitter, displayed the inherently amusing nature in which people of color tackle hateful rhetoric on the Internet. Similarly, pictures of #BBQBecky — a white woman who called the cops on black people barbecue-ing in Oakland — photo-shopped into seemingly “black scenarios” became a viral meme.
Likewise, Desus and Mero utilize this approach when discussing Trump and his flagrant bigotry on their talk show. Neither comedians have to eviscerate the president’s antics via rant or rehearsed monologue in the same fashion as some of their white peers. One, because it doesn’t fit in with the laissez-fare format of the show. And two, their target audience is black people. And if there’s one thing the American public learned from the last presidential election, we’re a group that doesn’t need to be lectured.
Their digs at Trump, whether it be his policies or his racist base, aren’t incompetent either, like some have argued about Jimmy Fallon. It’s not surprising that two black men’s perspectives on white supremacy are more subversive than that of a liberal, white person. In a reaction to the Charlottesville Neo-Nazi rallies last year, Desus points out a white protester holding an American flag with a swastika sewn in it and calls it “a little redundant.”
Additionally, it’s refreshing to hear people of color comment on the politics that shape their lives. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a white comedian give an exasperated take on Trump with the preface, “it’s ridiculous that I’m a rich, white guy explaining racism and bigotry to you, but let me explain it anyway.” The paradox of progressive, white men criticizing the systems that supply their privilege on a platform they exhaust because of their privilege is truly something to behold. To Seth Meyers’ credit, one of his recurring segments “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell” utilizes diverse members of his writing staff, Amber Ruffin, a black woman, and Jenny Hagel, a Puerto Rican lesbian woman, to handle topics beyond his scope. (It’s almost like they should have their own show.)
Nevertheless, Desus and Mero’s Showtime debut scheduled for next year looks more than promising and will hopefully elevate them to a space where they’ll be considered for prestigious honors. Even in the early stages of their career as pop culture luminaries, their brand is more pertinent than anything else on late-night television, bringing authenticity and authority to pieces of black culture that are already permeated in the mainstream. It’s the certainty of owning something that their peers can only borrow. Their brand is strong and fully realized.