Entertainment

How Desus and Mero Found Their Comedic Voices

VICELAND's late-night comedy duo talk about what they think is funny, how they developed their own voices, and what you can and can't say these days.
November 15, 2016, 4:15pm
Photo courtesy of Kareem Black/VICELAND

There was an uncharacteristically dark moment during a recent episode of Bodega Boys, the fast-paced comedy podcast hosted by the Bronx's own Desus Nice and the Kid Mero. The two were reflecting on how far they've come over the last few years, from amassing a cult-like online following (dubbed the #BodegaHive) to creating their nightly news commentary show for VICELAND, Desus & Mero—or, as they refer to it, "going Hollywood."

"Sometimes people will be like, 'Yo, your old tweets in 2013 were so good!'" said Desus. "And I'm like, 'Nigga, I wanted to kill myself every day.'" Mero agreed. "I was so angry." Desus took it to an even darker place: "I'd be on the subway platform, being like, yo, at what speed would this train need to be coming in that could I solve all my problems with two steps?" Then the two spent the following hour cracking up about everything from Rudy Giuliani's "racist teeth" to Rob Kardashian owing them $40,000.

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Every week, Desus and Mero offer a similar onslaught of impromptu jokes, bits, and news commentary like this on Bodega Boys, and over the last few weeks, they've been adapting their podcast routine for Desus & Mero—no prep, no script. The cameras' lights turn on, and they just go.

Since the two are pretty easy to find around the VICE office—just follow the trail of smoke and loud chuckling—we sat down with them at their tagged-up conference room desk-cum-TV studio to talk about becoming internet success stories.

VICE: Do you even remember life before you could put jokes out on Twitter?
The Kid Mero: Yeah, you'd hang out in the park with 15 dudes and smoke weed—they were your audience, and if you weren't funny, they'd let you know. That's what happens when you grow up where we grew up, it's a training ground for comedy. If you were a funny dude, you'd need to consistently be funny. Otherwise, you're not funny anymore, and you gotta put more money on weed.

Desus Nice: Also, being funny on the internet is different than being funny in the hood, because your boys might not get the same cultural references you get. I watch a lot of MSNBC, but I can't be making fucking Chris Hayes jokes on the corner. They'd be like, "What are you talking about?"

So you guys didn't come from any kind of professional comedic background? You never did stand-up or anything?
Desus: Actually, we did 20 years at UCB.

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Mero: [Laughs]

Desus: Nah, no comedy training other than New York City high schools, where you had to either be funny or get roasted. I never had fly clothes and kids would be constantly be getting at me, so I had to learn to clap back. So thanks, parents, for getting me the Jordans that didn't have Jordan on them. I had to turn my feet sideways, so no one sees 'em on the bus like, "Wait a minute, is that Horace Grant?"

What made you laugh growing up?
Mero: All the shit I wasn't allowed to watch as a kid, like Eddie Murphy's Raw.

Desus: Martin [Lawrence], his stand-up shit.

Mero: Def Jam Comedy, too. I used to watch so much Comic View, which is straight hood humor—Chitlin' Circuit shit—and to me, that was just hilarious. I find dudes like Bruce Bruce fucking hilarious, but Larry David is fucking hilarious to me, too.

It's funny that you mentioned Raw, because you guys have a running joke about trying not to say things that are problematic. Do you ever go back and see how Raw sounds today?
Desus: Raw now is like tweets from 2010. You look back and are like, "Damn, those jokes were allowed to fly at the time, but this could not at all fly right now."

Do you think that being more progressive will make sure that the show ages better?
Desus: If you're truly funny, that's just going to make your comedy better. If your comedy is just based on shock jokes that you can't say now, can you still be a comedian? Was dick jokes all you had? For us, it's not even about longevity—it's about a higher level of comedy. Anybody can go on Twitter and make the same fucking joke. "Yo, women take forever to pick a restaurant." There are a million tweets like that.

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Why do you think you guys stand out?
Desus: Because we do it without trying to do it. Our stuff is effortless because we really don't care. I've never tried to be in comedy, so I'm not out here competing. It comes across that we're just two dudes. You don't see in our bio, like, "Funniest dude on Twitter!" and "My favorite tweet has 20 thousand retweets."

Mero: "2010 Southern Pennsylvania Comedian of the Year!"

Desus: We come off just like when you have a funny dude or girl in your crew. We're not forcing the comedy on you.

Mero: Honestly, I expect people to steal my tweets and jokes—I'm like, "Yo, you know what? You can have that. Because if it takes you fucking three days to come up with one joke, maybe you shouldn't be doing this."

They just announced that Vine is going to shut down and will probably end the careers of so many Vine stars. What would happen for you if Twitter went down? Would you guys be OK?
Mero: Yeah, we're straight.

Desus: I've always said that you should use Twitter enough that you get successful enough that you no longer want to tweet.

How do you have such encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture minutiae?
Desus: [Whispers] I have no idea.

Mero: I just remember stupid shit. I'd watch a movie and sit in a room with a bunch of dudes smoking, and we'd be watching some random Van Damme or Steven Seagal movie. If there's a part that makes us laugh, that shit automatically lays itself into my head.

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Desus: Also, ever since I was a little kid, I've been fascinated with murders and homicides. As a little kid, I would read these news articles and absorb all this shit.

Mero, you've said that when you were younger your mom would make you write words out of the dictionary.
Mero: If I fucked up, she'd make me write words out of the dictionary, or whip my ass—or both. So I just started reading mad words, and now they'll just randomly come out. The other day, I was like, "Yo, this guy absconded in his whip to get away from this karate guy!" And I was like, "Whoa, that word just came out of nowhere."

You guys strike me as the type of kids who did really well on the SATs without studying.
Mero: I went into the SATs wild fucked up. I took it with pajama pants on and pulled up like it was a regular day. My mom was like, "You're gonna do terribly. You didn't even open that book!" 1460. I got 1460 out of 1600. And that's what got me accepted into mad schools, because my grades weren't that great—I had a 79-point-something average, and I begged them to boost it to an 80-something. They weren't even gonna let me graduate because I cut gym all the time. I finessed my way through school by being an excellent test-taker.

Desus: I was in a gifted program with Christopher Hayes. You had to take a test to get into it, which I took in second grade. Right away, the guy was like, "Yeah, he's in." My experience in that gifted program was so terrible. I was one of two black kids in my class—everyone else in the school was black, but the gifted program was almost all white kids. They had us reading high school-level books in fourth grade. I was reading Richard Wright's Black Boy in fourth grade, and I was like, "Whoa, this is heavy." So after that, I tried to fail any advancement test they gave me.

How much longer do you think you can sustain this comedic pace?
Mero: To me, the best comedy is honest comedy. I feel like we come across effortless, because we do what's natural to us. We talk to each other and try to make each other and other people laugh. But at the end of the day… I'm extremely high, and I lost my train of thought.

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You can catch Desus & Mero on VICELAND. Find out how to watch here.