There's no one more culturally vigilant than Daniel "Desus" Baker and Joel "Mero" Martinez.
The two Bronx, New York, natives—who host the Bodega Boys podcast and the late-night Showtime program Desus & Mero and will release their first book in April—know more about politics and entertainment than even the most seasoned critic. Baker and Martinez represent a new guard of cultural commentators who came up in the game online, and whose celebrity status is bolstered by their genuine, funny Internet personae.
Baker, 38, and Martinez, 36, got their start with a podcast and web series for Complex called "Desus vs. Mero." They'd interview sports stars like Iman Shumpert and comedians including Hannibal Buress, in addition to giving their "fuego takes" on pop-culture happenings. Their comedic banter and ability to seamlessly riff off of one another made them an instant hit; they later got a show on Viceland that followed a similar model. And on Showtime, they've sat down with the likes of Bernie Sanders, Charlize Theron, and Zendaya.
In the process, Baker and Martinez have become pop-culture icons in their own right—they have over one million Twitter followers between them, and their signature sayings and catchphrases ("facts don't matter," "gotta hear both sides") have entered the Zeitgeist and stayed there.
On Monday night in New York, Baker and Martinez were awarded by the Bronx Museum of the Arts at the Visionary Duos Gala for their contribution to culture. They stopped on the red carpet to discuss the 2020 election, what books they're reading, and why Lizzo requested Desus's presence in Denmark.
I want to ask you about the upcoming book you wrote.
Desus: Yes. God-Level Knowledge Darts: Life Lessons From the Bronx.
Tell me what that process was like? Did you write it together or separately?
Desus: We came together, wrote both of our parts together, and then mixed them. Like an Alizé and Henny, an Incredible Hulk.
Mero: Like a Thug Passion.
Desus: There you go.
Did you have a ghostwriter?
Mero: No, absolutely not.
Desus: It’s based on our lives, so it’s just us recounting our life stories. A ghostwriter would have no idea what to do. They’d have to constantly call us, like, “What was the name of the dog you kicked?”
So is that a spoiler? That you kick a dog in the book?
Desus: No, no spoilers. Also, we haven’t read the book yet.
Mero: I vaguely remember writing it. You know what I’m saying?
Desus: Every time I look through it, I’m just like, Wow, I don’t remember writing that at all.
But you have a link pinned to the top of your Twitter page to the Amazon preorder.
Desus: That’s the best part. When people order the book, we’re gonna be reading it at the same time as them. We’re gonna be in the book club, like, “I can’t believe I did this.”
Mero: It’s an extension of the TV show, that you’re experiencing this with us for the first time.
How did the idea for an animated podcast series come about?
Desus: That was just natural. People have been asking for that for a long time, and the way we deliver on the podcast, it’s seamless to turn it into animation.
Mero: Because we go on these runs, where it’s very heavy dialogue-based. We have the YouTube video, but it’s so much better when you can throw the absurdity elements into animation.
Desus: Yeah, the fantasy. Also, we’re just trying to be on pretty much every media platform. So we got the cartoon, we got the book——
Mero: You know what I’m saying?
Desus: We got the TV show——
Mero: We got some oil paintings coming soon. Check out Thomas Kinkade for the new shit.
Wait, are you actually serious about oil paintings?
Mero: Check out the Bodega Boys and Thomas Kinkade collaboration.
Desus: We might actually cover Central Park in yards of fabric this summer, just because.
Mero: Take it back to the Bloomberg days—random art shit.
You guys are arguably the most plugged-in people I know. Your television show is about pop culture, you’re constantly tweeting about pop culture. What do you do to unplug?
Desus: Probably weed.
Mero: Yeah. I’ll probably hit an edible and go to a bouncy house with my kids and forget about the entire world.
Desus: We’re so plugged-in, it’s kind of hard to unplug.
Mero: It’s almost painful. You remember the scene in The Matrix when they unplug Neo?
Desus: We grew up on Twitter. We didn’t one day just get on Twitter, we’ve been there since Day One, back when there were, like, five people on there. So to be off Twitter for an extended period of time, you feel like you’re missing the world.
It’s true, I was off Twitter for a day and felt like I missed out on everything.
Mero: You missed the election! You didn’t know? Bernie’s president now.
Desus: And nothing’s worse than if someone’s on Twitter and they get the news before you, because they feel so much better than you. Like, yesterday, someone comes in the room and they’re like, “Mayor Pete dropped out.” I’m like, “How did you find this out? I gotta tell the town!”
So you do get culture fatigue?
Desus: It’s not fatigue, it’s just knowing how to ride the wave of the Zeitgeist, of the culture, so you don’t burn yourself out.
Mero: It’s like that movie Short Circuit, where Johnny Five was just like, “Input!” And he would read an entire book in two seconds.
You know, I haven’t seen it.
Mero: Yeah, that’s kind of an old reference.
Desus: But, for example, with the election coverage, I watch a lot of MSNBC, but even I got to the point where I was like, Enough is enough. At this point, the people are just talking, empty phrases. You’re not even consuming culture, you’re just hearing noise.
Mero: It’s like, “Hey! What do you think about this candidate’s mustache today?” And six pundits will spend four hours on eight screens talking about it.
Desus: They’re like, “You know, Bernie Sanders can’t drink milk, how will this affect him in Iowa?”
Mero: “You know a lot of people in South Carolina are lactose intolerant, how will that affect polls?”
Desus: I heard some weird joke that was like, “You know who else was lactose intolerant? William H. Taft.”
What’s the last song that you had on repeat?
Mero: “Yo Perreo Sola,” Bad Bunny. I’ve had that on repeat all weekend.
Desus: Wait, I have it on my phone, because I just downloaded it. “Get Ugly,” Lil Baby, off the album My Turn. I wasn’t expecting his album to be really good, because he’s a baby. Apparently he’s not—he’s a grown man.
Mero: He’s buff baby.
What are the books currently on your bedside table?
Mero: Three Women.
By Lisa Taddeo?
Mero: Yes. It got handed down to me—it was my wife’s book club book, and I was talking about it on the show, and she was like, “Hey, you can have it.” So I’m reading that. It’s very—it’s a lot.
Desus: I’m reading a weird book about postcolonial Jamaica, and it’s super serious. I’m like, I’m not in college, why am I doing this for fun? Why am I giving myself homework?
What’s the last thing that you do before you go to bed?
Mero: Smoke 3.5 grams in a Backwood and watch basketball highlights.
Desus: I fill my humidifiers, which sounds very adult. But you gotta keep breathing.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
Mero: Kiss my kids. Because they kick me in the balls. They wake me up. So I’m like, thank you for waking me up, I was about to be late, but you woke me up by kicking me in the balls, so here’s a kiss. Muah, daddy loves you.
Desus: I walk my dog, because he’s the reason I wake up in the morning. If he says get up, we are getting up. Nothing is worse than a dog peeing on your floor.
What was the last concert you went to?
Mero: Wale, at Brooklyn Steel.
Desus: Last concert I went to was Lizzo, in Denmark. It was cold, but she killed it. She told me to come out, and I was like, “All right,” and off to Denmark I went.