It’s a muggy Saturday evening, but the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., is buzzing with energy. Desus Nice and the Kid Mero are about to officially introduce themselves to the sold-out crowd. Several audience members hold up their phones to record the comedic duo’s trademark “AKAs” – a rapid-fire listing of the dozens of monikers that begins each episode of their raunchy podcast, “The Bodega Boys.” Desus also goes by “Young Chipotle,” “3 Phone Jones” and “Eli Lit, B.” Mero calls himself “The Human Durag Flap,” “East Tremont Stevie B” and “The Dominican Don Dada.”
But right now, Desus and Mero reign supreme. These are the names they’ve lent to their Viceland show, which premiered last fall and is unlike anything else on late-night TV.
“Desus & Mero” is taped in a conference room at Vice’s Brooklyn headquarters, where the pair sit at a graffiti-covered table, flanked by colorful prayer candles. Behind them, a taxidermied bear is positioned to look as if it’s wearing Timberland boots. The show has expanded Desus and Mero’s fan base (dubbed the Bodega Hive) and earned critical praise for their unconventional celebrity interviews and brash but insightful takes on Donald Trump’s presidency.
“The show is no frills,” Desus said in an interview in the lobby of a downtown Washington hotel ahead of the 9:30 Club appearance. “It’s not about the background or what we’re wearing. The show is just what we’re saying and that’s the important thing. We don’t have little parlor games. There’s never Mero coming out on a tricycle.”
Guests have included rappers, journalists, actors, activists and athletes. They all sit at the table, wedged between the outspoken hosts.
More often than not, guests aren’t on to promote a particular project. Even when they are, Desus and Mero prefer to take the conversation to unexpected places.
In February, Desus playfully introduced MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow as “our homegirl from the streets.” “What hood you reppin?” he asked the host, who responded “uh, Western Massachusetts.” When activist Janet Mock stopped by to promote her memoir about navigating her 20s as a transgender woman of color,Desus and Mero devoted equal amounts of time to quizzing the Hawaii native about Spam. Rapper French Montana talked about fasting for Ramadan and excitedly recalled winning an ESPN bowling tournament.
Desus and Mero were raised in the Bronx and hail from immigrant backgrounds. Desus (real name: Daniel Baker), 34, is the son of Jamaican parents. Mero, 33, was born Joel Martinez to parents from the Dominican Republic.
“You couldn’t really think of two people with a more unique point of view of the world,” said Guy Slattery, Viceland’s co-president. “It resonates because they’re genuinely themselves on the show. They say what they think and it’s completely unfiltered.”
Viceland began in February 2016, when parent company A&E Networks replaced the History Channel spinoff H2 with the millennial-geared network. A rep says “Desus & Mero” is among the network’s most popular shows, with recent figures showing an average of 555,000 viewers total across its Monday through Thursday airings on all platforms – 1.4 million when you count repeats.
Viceland’s pot-themed series make it a fitting network for Desus and Mero, who make no secret of their enthusiasm for marijuana. Still,they admit their boisterous personalities are sometimes in contrast with the Vice office culture.
“At first it was like, they’re troublemakers. And then they started to see those ratings and they’re just like, ‘Hey … you wanna smoke here?’ ” Desus joked.
Desus and Mero met as teenagers while attending the same summer school, and were just casual acquaintances. But in 2008, they began to cross paths on Twitter, where they broke up the monotony of unfulfilling jobs – Mero worked as a high school aide and Desus wrote for a small-business magazine – by cracking jokes about their day-to-day lives.
As they beefed up their social media followings, Complex approached them to do a podcast called Desus vs. Mero, which led to a web series of the same name. The pair eventually landed stints on two MTV2 shows, “Guy Code” and Charlamagne Tha God’s”Uncommon Sense,” where they mused about pop culture, relationships and more.
Charlamagne, also a syndicated radio host,said he watches the “extremely talented” duo regularly and especially loves “the diversity of the guests.” And he thinks Vice is a good fit for them.”They probably felt like they weren’t free to be themselves at MTV,” he admits.
Like everyone else in late-night, Desus and Mero have had to contend with an unorthodox presidency. But “Desus & Mero” doesn’t have a traditional writing staff – the show is largely influenced by a running group chat the hosts have with a team of producers, whothey describe as family.
“It’s crazy, but we’re not beholden to it,” Mero said of the increasingly chaotic news cycle. “Obviously, there are important things happening in the country … so we usually touch on that because it’s inescapable. If Hillary would have won, we probably wouldn’t be talking so much politics.”
Just a few weeks into their run on Viceland, Desus and Mero hosted a live election special. Over on Showtime, Stephen Colbert was talking with journalists John Heilemann, Mark Halperin and Nate Silver. Desus and Mero featured rappers Talib Kweli, Joe Budden, Jim Jones and Cardi B.
“It was like watching election results in the hood,” Desus said. “It set the precedent for what the show was going to be.”
“The idea of watching election returns with Cardi B makes no sense,” he added. “But after the last election, it makes perfect sense.”
Last month they booked a dream guest: Sean “Diddy” Combs, who told them he had been watching. Mero grinned. “Oh, you watching the show?”
“When I see two black men on Vice, you know … it’s a big deal,” the mogul replied.
The duo often say variations of “we’re two dudes from the Bronx” with an air of disbelief. Mero recently moved to Bergen County, New Jersey, with his wife and four children. Desus still lives in the Bronx, but is planning a move to Brooklyn or Manhattan to cut down on his commute.
They are starting to get recognized more – fans frequently send them photos of their faces plastered on bus ads.
They are also getting noticed by their contemporaries. In June, Desus and Mero appeared on “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” where they traded notes on covering Trump’s administration with the NBC host, who asked about their “unconventional set.”
“It’s not as nice as this,” Desus told Meyers.
“We definitely don’t have 80,000 people,” Mero added, pointing to the audience.
All jokes aside, Desus and Mero appreciate what makes their show different.
“(Meyers) is a funny dude, but he’s in that format. You can’t break that,” Mero said. “So even if he wants to be himself, he’s got to stick to those questions on the card. We started without that mold.”
“But to be fair, he gets paid a lot more than we do,” Desus added.
The comedians are about to head to the 9:30 Club for sound check and they are already in bit mode. “Once we sell out and we’re on CBS in suits, I have the hair plugs, I got the two-inch veneers, I can’t even close my mouth …”
They break into stilted, fake laughs. Desus channels his inner Carlton Banks, over-enunciating every syllable: “Coming up next, Will Smith!”
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