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How Desus & Mero Went From the Bodega to the Big Time

The duo has taken their Timbs all the way to the top with their talk show.

Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have flipped the late-night talk show scene on its head. Born Daniel Baker and Joel Martinez, respectively, the Bronx natives started their first podcast, Desus Vs. Mero, in 2013. Since then, they’ve proven that two hardworking, culture-shifting brothers are better than one—and that you don’t have to change who you are to make it big. “We hang our hat on authenticity and our natural chemistry when we get together,” says Mero, 38.

Interestingly enough, when the two first met it wasn’t an automatic bromance. Though they attended the same summer-school program for a summer in high school, they only occasionally ran into each other. It wasn’t until they reconnected on Twitter years later that the former acquaintances began to form a friendship, reminiscing about shared experiences as first-generation New Yorkers—Desus being the son of Jamaican immigrants and Mero of Dominican immigrants.

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Followers enjoyed watching the two interact on social media. The positive response from their community and fans encouraged them to start their eponymous podcast. “We just took off,” says Desus, 40.

Despite their early success, Desus and Mero knew that navigating the entertainment business as Black men wouldn’t necessarily be easy. “We were in a position that, statistically, we were not supposed to be in,” explains Mero. “We were like, we got this opportunity—let’s make the most of it. Let’s just show and prove. The pressure was obviously there, but I was feeling kind of—not lucky, but
like we deserve this. It’s rare to get this look in entertainment.”

In 2015, Desus and Mero started the Bodega Boys podcast. A year later their television show Desus & Mero launched on Viceland, and in 2019 Showtime picked it up as a late-night talk show. As they’ve created one popular series after another, Desus says the duo’s biggest challenge over the years has been countering the notion that a show hosted by two Black men is solely for Black audiences. “Just because It’s two people of color doesn’t mean you can’t watch the show and relate to what we’re talking about,” he says.

Guests have ranged from politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Stacey Abrams to actors and musicians such as Glenn Close, Issa Rae, Missy Elliott and the late Chadwick Boseman. “We dress in what we’d wear regularly,” Desus adds.”The other late-night hosts, they wear suits. That little difference sets our show apart from other shows.”

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, the pair took a brief hiatus, but they soon returned to host the show from their respective homes. While the location had changed, their tradition of hilariously dissecting pop-culture news and current events remained the same. “The fact that Mero is on the same wavelength and bandwidth with me,” Desus says, “that’s the secret in the sauce.”

This article appears in the July/August 2021 issue of ESSENCE on newsstands now.