How ‘Desus & Mero’ Got Denzel Washington and More to Open Up Like They Never Have Before

IndieWire talked to Desus and Mero about their impressive Denzel Washington interview that kicked off Season 4 on Showtime.
Desus Nice and The Kid Mero with Denzel Washington in DESUS & MERO “Plain Slice”. Photo Credit: Greg Endries/SHOWTIME.
Desus Nice and The Kid Mero with Denzel Washington in "Desus & Mero."
Greg Endries/SHOWTIME

It’s the first Monday in May and Desus Nice and The Kid Mero are sadly not preparing for a Met Gala debut. Instead, Desus quipped, “We’re just going to a gala where they’re showing the Mets game.”

That kind of quick wit is a good example of why more and more people have gravitated to the duo hosting Showtime’s first ever late-night show “Desus & Mero.” Approaching a decade since they were first paired together on the podcast-turned-web-series “Desus vs. Mero,” the New York natives born Daniel Baker and Joel Martinez have built a brand that grows stronger each day, staking their claim as the No. 1 show in late night until it manifests into reality.

While the series already collected a Writers Guild of America Award last year for Best Comedy/Variety Talk Series, it has yet to receive Emmys attention. But Mero told IndieWire over Zoom that its fourth season, now back in their studio modeled after a bodega, has been “[hitting] different, as the kids say.”

“Yo, people are loving it,” said Desus of the new season, now eight shows in with a new episode every Thursday night. “The show is more polished now.”

Anyone familiar with Desus and Mero’s work knows that their comedic chemistry is lightning in a bottle, making it a given that their weekly segments providing back-and-forth commentary on news and pop culture will be hilarious, but their real growth now has been with their long-form interviews.

Season 4 opened with a sit-down with Denzel Washington, there to promote his A24 film “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” that is arguably the most insightful interview with the icon that’s ever been conducted. “People look at him as almost like this saint, a deity,” said Mero. The pair approached their chat with the two-time Oscar winner looking to humanize him, as they try to do with every guest. “At the end of the day, it’s like, ‘Yo, it’s Denzel! It’s Denzel from Mount Vernon.’”

Desus recalled talking to Washington before the cameras started rolling, connecting over his hometown and its proximity to the Bronx, where the hosts are from, “and then he just listed the train stops in order from Mount Vernon to our block. And he hasn’t been on a train in easily 40, 50 years.” Having found that touch point beforehand, the interview sees Desus and Mero unlock a casual side of the star audiences rarely see, making references to his upbringing walking past Peppino’s Pizza, and his late mother’s love of Billy Dee Williams. “That right there, we took him back to a place that he hadn’t been to in a while,” added Desus.

What may be even more impressive about Desus and Mero’s interview style is that they forgo using many of the traditional strategies other late-night shows use to hopefully produce a great segment, like pre-interviews where producers contact talent beforehand to settle on a story they would want to share on the show. “We’ve done it and we understand it, and it helps you make a show. But for us, the way we make our show, a pre-interview would not help in any way,” explained Desus. “If anything it would probably hamstring us because you don’t want to already know what people are going to talk about. You want it to be fresh and hearing it for the first time so you have a real reaction to it.” The hosts will do their research in case they find any interesting connections to their guests, or projects they have done that haven’t gotten enough attention, but their questions are built off of actively listening to and reacting to their guests. “That’s why we’re always in profile,” said Mero.

“You gotta go with your gut in these interviews. That’s why the interviews are so organic. We don’t have questions that we wrote before the person sat down, all the interviews are coming up from just the energy and the vibes we’re getting from the person we’re interviewing,” said Desus.

The pair’s disarming interview approach can even bring something revelatory out of discussion on something that seems like well-trodden territory. “Desus & Mero” recently had rapper Pusha T on the show to promote his new album, and “the Drake beef with Pusha, that’s a part of pop culture, so he knows it, we know it, we know each other, we know is going to come up,” said Mero. How they eventually did talk about it was through Mero, a father of four, bonding with Pusha over being a new father, leading to the rapper reflecting on how fatherhood has made his dispute with Drake inconsequential.

It became a seamless transition to what may be thought of as a touchy subject specifically because Desus and Mero have made sure to never ask anything in a way that feels like a “gotcha” question. “We’re not trying to get you out here looking stupid. We just try to have a good time and learn about you, and produce a good piece of television,” said Mero.

Speaking of great pieces of TV, it maybe doesn’t get better than getting to caress Michelle Yeoh with hot dog fingers like her character from “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once,” another example of the Showtime show’s propensity for spur-of-the-moment genius. “Shoutout to our production staff, because they said that she had extra pairs of the hands. And so if you watch in the edit, there’s no transition. You hear the noise from the movie, when they change from the multiverse to the real universe, and then the hands just come out,” said Desus. “Shoutout to her for being a great spirit and just having fun with us and playing with us. Because a lot of really famous celebrities would not have let us just play with them and mess up their hair, and touch their face with these dirty hot dog gloves. But she was a champ and she was down for it. And it came out great.”

Outside of such a fun moment, the interview with Yeoh displays how Desus and Mero know when to take a step back and let the guests go on a roll. “Some people, I’m not gonna say require, but you get the best out of them, when you push or when you prompt. And some people you just ask [a question], you just put the mic in there, and just go in,” said Mero. “And Michelle is one of those people that she’s so iconic. But when does she get to say these things?”

At the end of the day, “Desus & Mero” being a platform where guests are given enough time, and the right environment to truly be themselves is the hosts’ great joy. “I love meeting these people, knowing them for what they’re known for. But then getting that other side of it, like Denzel talking about his mother and how she used to come yell at him at the end,” said Mero. “I’m just like, ‘Wow, I hard, hard relate.’” It’s something that elicits the same reaction in their audience.

“Desus & Mero” Season 4 is currently speeding ahead with business as usual, but the pair have bigger ideas they would like to try once the world opens up more. “We definitely want to do a big travel interview. We want to go to England or go somewhere, and interview someone who you necessarily wouldn’t see here in the United States. So it’s like a big, big gotcha interview,” said Desus. Teasing how their interviews seem to be getting bigger and bigger, he joked, “We’re gonna be the first show to interview Rihanna’s baby, so make sure you write that.” Mero gleefully cut in to say, “In utero!”

The funny thing about “Desus & Mero” is seeing how at ease they have made their guests feel, and how much the show has grown in just over three years, we wouldn’t put it past them to actually make it happen.

“Desus & Mero” airs Thursdays at 11 p.m. ET on Showtime.

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