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Desus & Mero on Beyoncé’s secret identity and Google Reader as a metaphor for life

Desus Nice and The Kid Mero
Desus Nice and The Kid Mero
Graphic: Rebecca Fassola, Photo: Greg Endries/Showtime
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In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.

Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have no problem admitting that they watch their own show or that they laugh at their own jokes. Talking themselves up is how they got their first podcast, Desus V. Mero, on Complex TV back in 2013, and knowing their own worth is what motivated them to leapfrog from basic cable to Showtime in 2019. So why wouldn’t they be their own biggest hype men?

That’s aside from each other, of course—together, the chemistry between these Bronx-born comedians makes for one of the most charismatic duos in the industry today. Whether they’re entertaining each other with rapid-fire banter or conducting interviews with major political figures like Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, Desus and Mero have a special talent for putting both their guests and their audience at ease. That breezy charm comes through beautifully in their new book, God-Level Knowledge Darts: Life Lessons From The Bronx, a blend of weed-fueled wisecracks and serious reflection that feels like an extended, wide-ranging conversation with your funniest friends on the stoop of someone’s apartment building.

And that’s what it felt like getting them on the phone for The A.V. Club’s 11 Questions, an interview where we really didn’t have to ask a lot of follow-up questions—Desus and Mero don’t need much prompting to imagine fishing with JAY-Z or to talk shit about the Brooklyn Nets. The Emmy is still forthcoming, but the brand, as they like to say, is strong.

1. If you made a candle, what would it smell like?

Desus Nice: People should know this already, it’s all over my Instagram, in several different countries. My candle would smell like a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish. And that’s what people want. People want their house to smell like fish.

The Kid Mero: That is—that is wild. I thought my answer was going to be more gross. I really like the smell of Dutch [Masters] guts. When you dump a blunt, something about that smell is Pavlovian. I start to salivate, because I know what’s coming after. You know what I’m saying?

AVC: If you burn both at the same time, that’s a pretty good evening.

DN: That’s what backstage at our shows smells like.

2. What’s your favorite album from high school?

TKM: For me—and this is 100% accurate—it was Prodigy’s H.N.I.C. I had to buy the CD four different times, I listened to it so much. I put it in my parents’ car, and I was playing it when we were driving to church, and they’re like, “What are you listening to?” So yeah, that was it for me. Prodigy is one of the greatest of all time.

DN: My album would have to be Capone-N-Noreaga The War Report. It was a specific slice of life in New York in the ’90s, when it was super dangerous and we were running around with guns and all types of wild shit. I knew every word of that album, I used to walk around [listening to] it. It came up on random on my phone the other day, and I was listening to it, and I actually stopped it. I was like, “Yo, this is what I was listening to when I was a teenager? This is psychotic. They’re talking about murdering people left and right.” I was just like, “Wow,” listening to these stories in these raps. “No parents should allow their kids to listen to this.” But that’s what I grew up on. Even now, listening to it reminds me of riding the train to school, or going down to shoplift on Broadway. You know, good times.

AVC: I was going to ask if you still have those albums.

TKM: Oh yeah. I love N.O.R.E. I listen to N.O.R.E.’s first album and The War Report and The Reunion almost weekly.

DN: I’m at the point in my life, and it sadly happens to every hip-hop fan, where you just stop listening to new hip-hop. You start working backwards, and then you reach a certain point where you refuse to hear any music made after that point in your life. New music that was made after ’09? I’m not listening to it. I’m very old school. I’m one of those guys that comes onto a hip-hop board, and people will be talking about NBA YoungBoy, and I’m like, “Why aren’t you guys talking about Inspectah Deck? What do you guys know about the Wu-Tang Clan?”

TKM: I’m secretly envious of Desus, because I can’t do that. I have kids and they will slay me if I’m like, “Turn off that Playboi Carti and put on some Mobb Deep.” They’ll be like, “Dad, that’s corny.”

DN: “You ever heard of Yo-Yo?”

TKM: “MC Lyte was original!” “Is that a beer, dad?”

3. What conspiracy theory do you think is the most plausible?

TKM: Is Area 51 even a conspiracy theory anymore? Or has it been declassified?

AVC: There were some news stories about aliens earlier in the year, but I don’t think the government acknowledged that exact scenario.

TKM: That’s it for me. I 1000% believe that there is some part of the United States that is housing some type of alien life-form. It’s probably not some sci-fi horror movie bullshit, more like a specimen or a piece of DNA or something from some other life-form on another planet. And it’s been under wraps forever. I totally believe that shit.

DN: The conspiracy theory I believe in is kind of new, but it’s gaining some popularity. I like this new conspiracy theory where people think Beyoncé is an Italian woman named Ann Marie Lastrassi. It’s so random. Everyone was like, “What?” Have you not seen this conspiracy theory? It’s brand new.

AVC: No!

DN: There’s this guy who’s running for Congress, his name is KW Miller...

TKM: This shit is wild.

DN: So back in July, he got on Twitter, and he said that Beyoncé’s not really African American. She’s part of the Soros deep-state agenda, and she’s secretly Italian.

AVC: Wow.

DN: It’s one of those things where I’m just like, “Well, you know what? She’s never stated that she’s not Italian.” So, you know.

AVC: I heard she was in the Illuminati, but not this particular theory.

TKM: Listen, it’s an Italian word.

DN: [In New York Italian accent.] “Heyyyy, I’m trying to illuminate over here!” That’s one thing. The Illuminati, you’re like, “Okay, that’s out there. Wow.” But the idea that Beyoncé is secretly whipping up tomato sauce and is out there making cannolis? I’m like, “Okay, I could see this.”

TKM: She’s at home like, [NYC Italian accent] “Sean! Sean! I told you to bring the garbage out. What are you doin’? It’s Thursday, cardboard goes out on Thursdays, Sean!” And JAY-Z’s like, [JAY-Z voice] “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

DN: Blue Ivy comes out: “Mom, what are we having for dinner?” Beyoncé is like, “Gabagool.” You can totally see it.

4. What’s the first time you were disillusioned by politics?

TKM: I’m going to quote my dad so I don’t get blowback from this, but my dad has always said that Americans, by and large, are not that smart, politically. So back in 2016, we were at another network and we were doing a live election special, and we were watching [Trump’s election] go down in real time. And in that moment, I was just like, “Wow.” I never thought, “Oh yeah, this is a great government. This is amazing!” Because I am a man of color who lives in the Bronx.

AVC: Right.

TKM: So America was never “great” to me. But it was cool, and then it got real bad around 2016, and it’s just progressively been getting worse. That really disillusioned me a lot. I was already semi-disillusioned, but that was the cherry on top.

DN: When New Yorkers voted Giuliani to be mayor, that was a moment where I was like, “What the fuck is going on?” Because if you remember [in 1992], Giuliani led a rally full of off-duty cops up at [New York City mayor’s residence] Gracie Mansion where he had the cops chanting the N-word about [then-mayor] David Dinkins. It was on the news. And that was the only reason I remembered Giuliani’s name. So I was like, “He could do that, and you guys are still going to let him be mayor?” That’s the moment your eyes open, and you’re like, “This whole thing is rigged. What’s even the point?” So—shoutout to Giuliani!

5. Who would you call if you needed help burying a body?

DN: That person is on the phone with us right now. I’d call Mero.

TKM: [Laughs.] Yeah, we could get it done. We could get it done. Did you ever hear that N.O.R.E. song—speaking of ’90s hip hop—“Body In The Trunk?” That would be us. I’d be like, “Yo, yo, Desus, yo, I gotta bury a body, son. Word up.”

DN: Also, the fact that you’re asking us this question as a hypothetical—I’m wondering, because we’ve lived the life. We’ve lived the life.

6. What’s your favorite Halloween costume you’ve ever worn?

DN: We’re both kids from the Bronx, and in the Bronx it’s the Jason mask—

TKM: Or the Scream mask. Or the Dead Presidents mask, you know, the white face with the black eyes. Those are the Bronx costumes.

DN: With the Jason mask, you could commit a crime and they’d be like, “The guy was wearing a Jason mask,” but that’s 90% of the Bronx at any given moment on Halloween. It’s a great way to disappear.

TKM: It’s the same thing with the Scream mask. Here’s what I’ll say about the Scream mask: Depending on where you get it, it’ll have sweat-wicking technology. So when you’re running from the cops after you throw an egg at them—you know what I’m saying? Your sweat is absorbed by the nylon.

7. If proximity to your industry was a moot point, where would you most like to live and why?

AVC: This is an interesting one for you guys in particular. Would it be the Bronx?

TKM: Oh yeah. The only reason I moved to Jersey was because I literally cannot afford a house that would fit my kids [in the Bronx]. I used to go to the DR every summer growing up, and, yo—nature is important. Being out in the grass and the trees and shit. But trying to find that in the Bronx for under $2 million is wild. I had a really hard time. I scoured, you know what I mean? I almost moved to Queens, but even there, if you want any kind of yard space or anything like that, you’re looking at like $800,000, $900,000. And I was like, “Yo, I don’t have that.” So yeah, I had to follow Fat Joe’s advice and move across the bridge.

DN: If I could do the show from anywhere, I would do it in Amsterdam. I went there last year, and it’s so wonderful. People don’t have cars, they ride their bikes everywhere. And it was so chill and clean and they had these dispensaries where they were playing real hip-hop. It’s pretty much the opposite of the Bronx. And I was like, “Wow, this would be a weird place to live.” I could see myself riding to the store on a bike to get a loaf of bread. That’s just amazing. I would love to see that version of Desus.

8. How did you learn about the birds and the bees?

TKM: My dad. My parents didn’t do the whole, like, stork thing. My dad used to take me out to work with him when I was a kid. I’d be like 7, 8, and that’s when we had those conversations. So I’m, like, 8 years old, and he says, “You put the penis in the vagina, you move around in there, whatever, you bust a nut, and if you’re lucky or unlucky, depending on how you look at it, you get pregnant.”

AVC: What was your reaction?

TKM: I was like, “Oh cool. All right, fine.” He didn’t sugar-coat that shit at all.

DN: I learned from the older guys on my block. I was the youngest kid on my block, and it was all older guys. So when I was 11, I’m hanging with 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds. And they were very frank about what sex was, because they were constantly talking about it. It was that kind of thing, and I learned it from that. And then by the time my father did have the conversation with me, I was almost 19. He was like, “Oh, let me tell you about—” And I was like, “Sir. You are so late. Been there, done that. Thank you for coming, but at this point I could teach you about it.”

TKM: “Dad, I’m already eating ass. You don’t even know about analingus, Dad! I lapped you!”

9. What’s the pettiest hill you’re willing to die on?

DN: Okay, this is my petty hill: Even if the [Brooklyn] Nets win a championship, the Nets will never be the team of New York City. And I would die on that, okay. No matter how shitty the Knicks are, the Knicks will always be the team of NYC. Sorry, guys. Sorry, Katie.

TKM: That’s true. It’s just facts, man.

AVC: Same?

TKM: I mean, I’ve got an echo, but on another level. All you Metropolitans fans—shoutout to you, shoutout to Queens, you created some great hip-hop. But as far as baseball goes, this is a Yankees city all day, guys. Sorry. I’m sorry. You’re the little brother. You’ll always be the little brother. Same thing goes for the Jets. Sorry.

DN: That goes for the Islanders, too. This is a Rangers town, baby.

10. What pop culture or art do you turn to when you’ve had a bad day?

TKM: This is going to sound wild and I shouldn’t even be saying this, but listening to the same shit that my kids listen to, like Playboi Carti and Lil Pump, and just super turning up with them. I’m a man of a certain age and I probably shouldn’t be doing that, but I enjoy it.

DN: I really enjoy our show, to a level that I think if people saw how excited I am to watch my own show, it’d be kind of obnoxious. Because even if I’m doing other things, I will stop what I’m doing to watch the show that we created and we’ve already seen. But I enjoy it. I like seeing what we’ve created, and actually just the humor. I laugh at our jokes like we just did them for the first time.

And to prove that point, Showtime—they show the show at 11 p.m., and then the West Coast feed is a couple hours later. And I will sit there and wait for the second showing, and sit there and laugh all over again. It’s my hands down favorite show on TV. And I know that’s an obnoxious thing to say, and I have no problem saying that.

AVC: Are you critical of the show? Are you like, “Oh, I could have come up with a better joke there,” or are you always like, “Yeah, fuckin’ killed it.”

DN: It’s like game tape. But it’s so weird because being in that position, it’s never critical. It’s more like, “They should have left this joke in,” or, “They shouldn’t have cut that joke.” But then last night—and this is going to sound so weird—there was a shoelace dangling from one of the sneakers behind me for the whole episode. And that infuriated me! I’m like, “Why didn’t someone tell me about that?!”

TKM: That game film reference is super on point. That’s how I watch the show. You know, R.I.P. Kobe [Bryant], he always talked about watching game film. And [I ask myself] “What can I improve on? What can I do better? What can I do with this? How can I pivot off of Desus’ joke better than I did in this instance?” Not beating myself up about it, but just trying to improve, you know?

And also, when it comes to the finished product, we record the show, and we know what we said, but then the graphics team gets their hands on it, and editors get their hands on it. And it’s a whole new beat. So watching the finished product... It’s like drawing a concept car and then seeing it come off the line at the factory and just being like, “Yeah, we did that.”

11. If you could find out the day you were going to die, would you want to know?

TKM: Hell yeah!

DN: Yeah!

AVC: Why?

DN: So I could get shit done before that day!

TKM: Hell yeah. I’m going to do everything I need to do before however the fuck I go out. I’m going to do the bucket list, and I’m going to do everything with zero moderation.

DN: There was a super popular product years ago called Google Reader, and every time you came across something on the web, you were like, “Oh, let me add it to my Google Reader. I’ll read it later. I’ll read it later. I’ll read it later.” Then one day, Google came out and said, “Guess what? You’ve got three months left on the Google Reader.” And it changed everything, because you were reading them at your leisure, but now you had to read them before you ran out of time.

And that’s kind of what life is like. You might need that push to go a little harder in life. If you know you’re only going to have however many days left? Now this choice of “Do I stay home or do I go outside?” it makes the difference. If it’s like, “Hey, you only have four more days to go outside,” that changes whether you’re going to stay home and watch The Big Bang Theory or go out there and try to create something. So yeah, I would definitely like to know the date.

TKM: 1,000,000%. It’s a deadline, in the most literal sense. I would love to have that literal deadline so I could get everything accomplished before that date.

AVC: It’s interesting, because a lot of people that we do this interview with say no. They’re like, “Oh no, that would be too scary, it would stress me out too much.”

TKM: Man, we’re from the Bronx! I was supposed to be dead 10 years ago.

DN: True. True.

TKM: I’m 37 years old!

DN: And now the pandemic is putting things into perspective. People who live near you are dying, cousins you didn’t even know are dying. And it’s not even just that particular thing—even Chadwick Boseman dying. That was our boy, and to see someone like him go out? Everything is completely different now. Life is what you make of it, while you have it. You don’t know how long you have here, so you try to squeeze the shit out of it while you can.

TKM: We’re here for a good time, not for a long time.

Bonus 12th question from Colin Quinn: Jerome Avenue or The Grand Concourse?

DN: Oooh. Colin Quinn!

TKM: Colin Quinn...

DN: I have to go with Jerome Avenue, because the train is above it. That one’s got the 4 Train, and it goes by Fordham Road, and that’s where it gets a little sketchy at night. So shoutout to Jerome!

TKM: Well, you know what, there’s a caveat. What are we doing in these places? Because they’re useful for different reasons. I’m a graffiti rat, so if someone says to me, “What do you want to do at 4 a.m.?” and I’m like, “I want to write my name on some property,” I’m definitely going to go Jerome. Because like Desus said, the 4 is right there, the rooftops are highly visible, and you can put up your own billboards up there. You climb up onto a roof and just boom, boom, boom, do your thing. And then you ride the train the next day and see your marvelous artwork.

But then the Grand Concourse is modeled after the Champs-Élysées in France, you know what I’m saying? That’s something that probably a lot of people know, and I feel like I’m smart by saying it, and I’m not. But that’s kind of weird, that they modeled something in the Bronx after something Parisian. Also, the Grand Concourse was always lit! People hanging out outside their buildings, smoking hookahs and getting hibachis out and shit. I mean, not now—or maybe yes still now. But in the summertime—the El train is over Jerome, so it shuts it in a little bit. The Concourse is more wide open, and there’s apartment buildings all down the strip. So there’s a lot more activity, and opportunities to see people fighting or some wild shit going down or bumping into friends or whatever.

AVC: If you had to pick one though? Like, one is erased from the face of the Earth.

DN: I don’t think it’s possible, but I’ll go with Grand Concourse. The Grand Concourse is kind of like your path in life, because when you’re on the Grand Concourse, you could turn one way and end up at Yankee Stadium, or you could turn the other way and end up in the house of detention and the court system.

TKM: Yo, it’s mad deep. It’s Choose Your Own Adventure Avenue.

AVC: And then what would you like to ask the next people who are doing this?

DN: My question is, which would you rather have: $5 million or dinner with JAY-Z? Tell them to really think deep.

AVC: What’s your answer?

DN: My answer is dinner with JAY-Z. One dinner with JAY-Z, he’ll teach you to make $5 million.

TKM: Boom.

DN: You know what I’m saying?

TKM: Give a man a fish, he has one fish. Teach a man to fish, he eats forever.

DN: He’d teach me how to fish wearing a Roc-A-Fella hat. [JAY-Z voice] “That’s right, baby! Yo, teach these seven seas, talk to ’em. D, catch these fish. My wife is Italian, she’s going to fry them right up.”