Johnny Carson. David Letterman. Jay Leno. Jimmy Fallon. Jimmy Kimmel. Stephen Colbert. What do all those television personalities have in common? Sure, they’re all late-night television hosts… but what else do they have in common? You see it. Even if you don’t want to admit it just yet, you do. Let’s face it: Late night is a very white occupation. And sure, there have been some exceptions; Arsenio Hall, Joan Rivers, and Chris Rock spring to mind. But for the most part, the space has been dominated largely by older, white, straight, male, former stand-up comics. And before you scroll down to the comments to write “nuh-uh,” just hear me out.
Until very, very recently, there was one huge exception to this trend: Showtime’s Desus & Mero. However, last night, the show’s creators announced on Twitter that after four seasons, the show is coming to an end. Even worse, its two hosts, Daniel Baker aka Desus Nice and Joel Martinez aka The Kid Mero, were splitting up to pursue separate creative endeavors after nearly a decade of collaborations which included the Desus vs. Mero and Bodega Boys podcasts, the Desus & Mero talk show, and even an anime, Neo Yokio. The show’s cancellation isn’t just a loss of a beloved, underrated comedic pairing — it’s a loss for hip-hop as a whole.
— DESUS & MERO on SHOWTIME (@SHODesusAndMero) July 18, 2022
Before Desus & Mero, it’s hard to find too many examples of hip-hop culture in the late-night TV space. Sure there was Arsenio Hall, doing his best to bring the fashion, music, and voice of the streets to America’s living rooms in the early ’90s. But while The Arsenio Hall Show was a landmark in bringing hip-hop to mainstream audiences, it was also watered-down, polished, and presented in a way that the whole thing slicker and more palatable to those audiences. It also largely avoided political topics, although the show did come under fire for booking — or not booking — some guests that audiences found controversial.
And certainly, hip-hop music remains a draw on late-night, with The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon employing a house band that comes from the rap world in The Roots. Rappers with new projects to promote are often booked as musical guests, performing their viral hits on shows like The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel Live! But more broadly, the Desus & Mero show was a chance to see hip-hop as a culture on TV, in a space that not many of us get to touch. They were not buttoned up. They didn’t wear suits. Their set was modeled after a New York bodega, the type of place where you’d actually find rappers hanging out.
Decked out in fitted caps and Timberland boots, they spoke in the sometimes coded slang of the streets, with all the swagger born of growing up in The Bronx. They interviewed the rappers that the bigger shows wouldn’t; in the past year, they’ve had guests like Baby Keem, Bobby Shmurda, Cordae, and Nas — both the Queens legend who made Illmatic, and the Fox News frustrating Lil Nas X. They debuted underground crooner RMR’s “I’m Not Over You” video. And they got their non-rapper guests to open up about not just their favorite rappers (watch Yo-Yo Ma play DMX!), but all sorts of down-to-earth topics. They interviewed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in their shared borough, taking the format beyond the confines of the studio.
And, in perhaps the biggest coup for the show to date, the duo interviewed former President Barack Obama, who roasted them as naturally as if they were having the conversation on a neighborhood stoop, rather than an empty rented auditorium undoubtedly surrounded by Secret Service agents. Whatever your feelings on the man’s politics, you have to admit that the moment lent legitimacy to hip-hop (and vice versa) in a way that, whether we want to admit it or not, is nice to see after three decades of politicians and pundits blaming rap culture for everything from school shootings to the overall decline of polite society.
So, pour one out for Desus And Mero. They showed that hip-hop could belong in yet another space that wasn’t made for it, that didn’t make provisions for it, and that mostly overlooked it. They brought us — our voices, our faces, our fashion, our outlook, our language, our interests, our culture — to millions of American homes. Late-night might have gotten a little less colorful without them, but those two guys from the Bronx undoubtedly opened a door — and the next Desus and Mero are likely right around the corner.