Staying Up Late: Desus & Mero
When the ads for Desus & Mero began running on Showtime early in 2019, I had no idea who they were. But almost immediately, I liked their nerve and flair: They introduced themselves as ‘Ray Donavan’ and ‘Billions’ respectively, which just goes to show how fond they would be of biting the hands that fed them. When they made their official debut last February, I decided to give them a chance. I have never regretted it.
Desus Nice and Kid Mero have an approach to late night, which borders on the revolutionary. For one thing, well, there are two of them. No straight man and comic, no lead and sidekick; Desus and Mero are equals on their stage. There’s the fact that their both African-Americans, but that works very much in their favor. There’s also the fact that they seem never to take anything seriously, which if you’ve watched all of the network comedies and most of the cable ones is refreshing in it’s own light. And I think the biggest part of what makes them so light-hearted is the fact that they may be the only late night show on the air anywhere that doesn’t put politics front and center. There are no arguments about mass shootings, no arguments about #metoo, and when race comes into it — and they don’t shy way from that part at all, believe me — they are more intent to focus on what is going on in entertainment rather than politics. On their very first show, they made the argument that Green Book, just a few days from winning Best Picture, was a variation on the ‘white savior’ that has pervaded the culture since at least Driving Miss Daisy. They cheered for Spike Lee — but I think more because he’s from Brooklyn than anything else — they prefer Beyonce over Taylor, and they have segments where they try to identify white actors from TV series that they freely admit they don’t watch.
So what to do with their half-hour? A lot of it is internet stuff, and not necessarily the stuff that the average person would hunt down. To try and even describe most of what they find is to utterly fail to do it justice — one might as well try to paint a symphony. The majority of what they focus on is local news or the kinds of stories that would make up color for background. One of my favorite stories came when they dealt with a story about a woman who seemed to be struggle because she was born with the name ‘Marijuana Pepsi Van Dyck.” They discussed whether this was a ‘struggle’, how exactly you pronounce Van Dyck, (Desus was certain it was Van Dick), and how it felt to be the third child and have your name called.
They do a fair amount of interviews, but a lot of them aren’t the same kind of people you’d expect or the usual approach. They’ll invite Jordan Peele to do an introduction for the next Twilight Zone; they’ll have a beer with Anthony Anderson, or go shopping with Anna Kendrick. A lot of their own byplay is with the off-camera people, who deserve special credits of her own. They’ll caption her responses, and they always seem to take seriously — to a point. Of course, nothing on this show is really serious — both men have beer in front of them from which they drink freely, and there may be an argument for getting drunk in front of the camera if these are the results. Their reactions are always entertaining — both deliver ‘Woooow’ in a way that must be heard to be believed, and when Mero starts laughing, he will often fall of his chair doing so. Considering that almost every late night host goes out of their way to not react to anything, it’s refreshing to see people so enjoying their material.
I’ve mentioned that they weren’t political. That’s not entirely true. Like every late night show host, they’ve had almost every candidate for President on their show. But Desus and Mero don’t engage in policy talk — that’s not their thing. Kristen Gilibrand made them dinner, they had a meal with Pete Buttigeg, they shot hoops with Cory Booker, and tried to see of Elizabeth Warren could plan them out of an escape room. They had a recent interview with Joe Biden, and it basically ended where Mero asked him if he was support the blue flavored Gatorade. (Biden preferred orange.) And their first guest was AOC, but she’s from the Bronx; I really think it was more geographical than political. And they go after local politicians with the bets of them — when De Blasio was running for President, they took special joy in noting how empty his rallies were and that he was polling at 0%. They are more likely to show local news than cable news — they’ve got a thing for one of the broadcasters at a New York 4 affiliate. They didn’t deal with the impeachment or the collusion scandal at all, and will sometimes go for weeks without mentioning the President. For a late-night world where it seems everything must focus on whatever tweets come out of the White House, its actually exhilarating to see people who are still hung up on the Kardashians.
The true sign of their arrival came in their second season premiere where they interviewed David Letterman. They were properly respectful for him (though they did seem to approve more of his beard then anything else) and he gave them his official blessing in which he said: “When I first saw your show, I thought this is something I can get behind.” The social distancing has not really slowed them down, if anything they seemed to have adapted far better than anyone other than John Oliver, and can be very creative. (They once did an entire interview segment which was entirely animated.)
For those of us who were raised on Leno and Kimmel, this is a revelation as to how late night should be operating these days. Does it help that they only do two episodes a week? Probably. It’s actually a balance that I would be grateful if more late night shows tried. But more than they are vibrant, vital, and can cut through the bullshit in a way that puts a lot of the stodgy white man on late night to shame — and I’m not just talking about the comics. If Desus and Mero are the future of late night, I will gladly take them over any flying car.
My score: 5 stars.