Desus and Mero Talk Knowledge and Growth in the Land of Humor
The hosts of the 'Bodega Boys' podcast and the hit self-titled Showtime series share why writing and recording 'God-Level Knowledge Darts: Life Lessons from the Bronx' was the perfect evolution for them and their fandom, a.k.a. the Bodega Hive.
Note: Portions of this interview contain mature language and themes. Listener discretion is advised. Text has been edited and may not match audio exactly.
Abby West: Hi, I'm your Audible editor, Abby West, and I am excited to talk today with my illustrious guests, my fellow Bronx-ites and podcast and cable stars, Desus Nice and The Kid Mero, better known as Desus and Mero, about their book, God-Level Knowledge Darts: Life Lessons from the Bronx. Welcome.
Desus: Yo, what up, to everyone who was down with Audible back when they were using real media, you know what I'm saying?
Mero: Thank you, Abby. Hi. That's right.
Desus: Way back in the day, before you could download the books, you know what I'm saying? We had to listen to it in the library, because I was there. People would come in and have no idea what was going on. They was like, "Excuse me, sir? Can you help me with my audio settings?" I was like, "No, I'm a computer page, I don't get paid to do this." So thank you.
Mero: That's right.
Abby: Well, thank you for shouting out all the places I think I've lived, so thanks for that, appreciate that.
Mero: Dropping Kingsbridge, I don't know.
Abby: I lived there too. I'm good.
Mero: Hey, Kingsbridge, we out here.
Abby: Just saying, just saying. All right, my pressing question for you is: why does the Bodega hive need this audiobook ASAP? Why was this the book you all needed to write?
Desus: Because it's been too long, and right now, when it comes to hood libraries, when you go into your boy's house and he has a library made of cinderblocks and random plywood, what do you see? The 48 Laws of Power, you see that right there?
Mero: Yep, Art of War.
Desus: Art of War, you might see 50 Cent, G-Unit, "how to get money," one of those books like that. You might see Push from Sapphire. You might see Coldest Winter Ever. So we want to get into that legacy of hood literature, as much of the hood books that people reference in their life.
Mero: This is just a 200-page receipt of our growth, do you know what I mean?... As our world expanded, so has our worldview and our understanding of other people and other cultures, and other, you know, everythings... The next book is even going to be more popping.
Actually no, it's just time, it's just time to write a book. We're at a point in our career where we're not so much the people we were when we began, we've moved past that and we're just one of those, "Yo, get that down on the paper so people can see where we come from," and right there, because as we always say, "The brand is strong, the brand is leveling up." And you just want to have a paper trail, not only so people can look back and be like, "Yo, I'm so proud of them," but in case anyone ever comes up with old crimes we did in the past, we can be like, "Yo, we're not guilty, we were making a book on that day, Officer. Go look at chapter three, that was September 3. You've got nothing, get out of here."
Mero: Desus is right. This is just a 200-page receipt of our growth, do you know what I mean? As human beings on this planet, you know what I'm saying? We started off very raunchy and very much not on the right side of things early on, do you know what I mean? But our world was the block. As our world expanded, so has our worldview and our understanding of other people and other cultures, and other, you know, everythings. So, you can see that in the book. It will continue on that trajectory. The next book is even going to be more popping.
Abby: I like all of that, and I like the strategic-ness of it all as well. As someone who grew up in the Bronx and who is a fan and has really been cheering you guys along, what do you think it is about the Bodega Boys that gives you the flexibility to cross mediums so well, from podcast to TV shows to audiobook, and have your audience follow you as well as grow?
Desus: Well, I think because we're meant to be here. The fact that you see other podcasts and everyone's like, "Yo, I can't wait to do this, I can't wait to interview this person, I can't wait to do this live show." Our podcast, we're literally, if you hear it, we're literally excited just to have the podcast, just to even have anything going on. Because our lives in the Bronx, the trajectory was not, "Be famous," it was just like, "Just have a meager existence. Just exist every day for the rest of our lives until we die in the Bronx." And that didn't sound like anything good.
We know we have talents that will take us to the next level, so that's what the podcast is about. The podcast is like, "Yo, me and Mero... this is going to sound weird, it's going to sound super early morning, it's very much X-Men or the Avengers movie where you have a superhero and they're finding out their powers and they're using them.
Also being from the Bronx, no one ever was just like, "Yo, you two can make it." Because you'll go in other boroughs and people be like, "I brought out a podcast." Be like, "Oh, let me listen to it, let me swap the link and stuff." You go to the Bronx and you've got a podcast, people are like, "Yo, what the hell is that?" You know what I'm saying? "Yo, what's my man talking about? What's a podcast? Yo, my man got pod—"
Mero: "It's one freaking podcast, yo. F**k out of here with your podcast. What you casting on your pod?"
Desus: Being able to be authentic Bronx residents that made a podcast that is authentically from the Bronx that resonates anywhere across the world, that is something not everyone else can pull off and I think that's probably the secret to our success. Our ability to be from the Bronx but also transcend the Bronx at the same time, and people will enjoy hearing that.
Mero: Because there's things that people, there are parallels across America, no matter where you live. It's Anyhood, USA, you know what I'm saying? We're just two dudes from the hood. I feel like previously, two dudes from the hood have not gotten a national platform to speak about stuff frankly and openly like how they do on the block, so it started that way and then we've grown and the world has opened up for us, but when you distill it, that's the essence.
It's like, "Yo, this is where we're from, we're just like you. Even though we're from a different place." The Bronx is just like a veneer for the whole thing, you know what I'm saying? It's just like, "Oh, we're from the Bronx." There are things that are specific to the Bronx, but there's always stuff that's relatable across the country, man. Like police brutality. All this stuff. Economic disparity, food deserts, all that stuff happens across the country in low-income, "bad neighborhoods." Which happens to be where we live, do you know what I mean?
Abby: I love that—
Desus: Also, quick shout-out to—we're also following tradition of our fellow Bronx poet, shout-out to Edgar Allan Poe, you know what I'm saying? He was out here, so we out here—
Mero: Sedgwick Ave.
Desus: Keeping the vibe alive, Poe gang.
Abby: You're taking it way, way back. I've got it, I like it, it's good. Let's talk about how you translated your TV show and podcast sly references, because that's the thing that people love about you, from everyone. You're smart and funny, and you don't always go for the cheap laugh. There's smart, sly references. I've got questions specifically for both of you. Desus, did your time as an English major help inform how you approached this book at all?
Desus: Oh, absolutely. You can't be an English major and a former employee of the New York Public Library, shout-out to NYPL gang [Shoutouts]. You can't be in that world and have your mother as a retired librarian and put a trash book into the world.
Also, as a former New York Public Library employee, I remember a little thing we used to do called "weeding," and what that was, we'd look at circulation, and if your circulation was bad, if no one was reading your book, we literally would rip the front page out of your book, take it off the shelves, and throw it away. Okay? If your book was garbage, we would remove your book from the New York Public Library shelf to make space for other books. The whole time I'm writing it I'm like, "I have to do everything in my power to make sure my book does not get de-circulated, okay?"
The saddest thing I can think of is an 18-year-old intern in Kingsbridge Library saying, "This book is trash," ripping out the front page and throwing it out on the garbage for someone to pick up. So that kept me in… also, rest in peace to Sister Ann Denise, one of the sisters of the charity at my college, College of Mount Saint Vincent, who was my professor in English who hit me with a ruler when I was a freshman in college because I said, "You can't do that because I pay tuition. You can't do that, I've never been to Catholic school before." She hit me with the ruler, she taught me everything about English and she said, "You have a talent." She made me walk her from her office to class every time we had class, but she taught me everything I know about an English degree, writing, taught me about the difference between Richard Wright, Jane Austen, all the Harlem renaissance stuff. So writing this book, I always felt like she was over my shoulder like, "Yo, remember: people who use exclamation points have nothing to add." I was like, "Okay, all right. You're talking to me sister."
Abby: Real talk and shout-out to all the great teachers out there.
Mero: For real. Y'all should be in the one percent.
Abby: Yeah, seriously. Mero, what was the hardest part for you in doing this book? What stayed top of mind for you?
Mero: To me it was just like, making sure that it had readability. And not in the sense of, "Oh, this is an easy read." But in the sense of, "I want to read this again when I'm done." Do you know what I mean? "I want to blow through this book the first time and then go back and find all the little Easter eggs and little cutty references that I didn't get the first time because I just wanted to voraciously tear through this book."
I love it because we've done the book tour, we've had the book for a long time and I've read it 25 times, and there's still parts of it where I'm like, "Oh!" Do you know what I mean? I know what's coming, but it's like I don't know what's coming every time. That, to me, is the sign of a really good, really funny, solid book. Well, solid anything is just that you can go back to it and enjoy it like it's the first time you opened it up.
Abby: I love it. Talk to me about the recording process. You recorded during quarantine or before?
Desus: The audio or the—
Mero: Oh, way before.
Abby: The audio, the audio.
Mero: Way before.
Desus: Way before, but then in quarantine we did pickups. That was definitely a moment we were just like, "These are things that a year ago, if you're just like, "Yeah, you're going to record high-quality audio for your audiobook in your house," and you'll be like, "No, I'm not. That's ridiculous. There's no way that's even possible."
But now because of quarantine, things that last year if someone had asked you to do, you're just like, "Tell me when and where to be there, I'll do that." If people were just like, "Yo, you have six Zoom interviews today." If that was last year I'd be like, "Okay, six outfits, six different call times, six different buildings." Nope, now it's just like, "Yo, have your six buildings, maybe have a piece of cheese and some toast right there so you've got a quick snack, and keep it moving." You're your own sound person, you're your own production assistant, your own manager, your own audio engineer. But we made it happen, and if you hear the audiobook you can't tell that we did it in our homes.
The sad thing is, now that we realize how quick and easy it is to do audiobooks, we're going in a pass and we're going to do audiobooks for books that already exist and we don't even have permission from some of the people that wrote it, so look out for me and Mero, we're reading Coldest Winter Ever. What else? What are some other books we're going to be reading?
Mero: Apparently, Dr. Seuss is mad problematic, so we've got to redo his whole catalog, you know what I'm saying? And make it appropriate, you know what I'm saying?
Desus: We're coming with a new book for the times, black eggs and ham, a mix on Black Lives Matter, you know what I'm saying? It's weird, it's Dr. Seuss and…but we're working it out, we're working it out, do you know what I mean?
Mero: You know what I'm saying?
Abby: All right, all right.
Mero: And brunch.
Abby: Aside from the quarantine aspect, did you find it similar or different from recording your podcast back in the day?
Desus: That's a good question.
Mero: It was almost the same. It was... yo, technology is wild because we did this collaboratively on a Google Doc and at first it was like, "All right, how are we going to do this? How are we going to attack this?" And it was just like, the way we work is just bouncing back and forth, so it was like, a live document made perfect sense. He could be in there and I could be in there at the same time, I'm seeing him writing stuff, he's seeing me writing stuff. We're just bouncing off each other, almost in real time.
I'm not going to say it made it super easy, because writing a book is not super easy, don't get gassed, not everybody could do it, but it made it so that the balance that we strike in every other format, be it the podcast, the show, TV, video, whatever, was still there, do you know what I mean? And you feel it, it's palpable through the book. When you're reading through, you feel like you're reading a podcast.
Desus: The podcast, it was different because you're sitting there by yourself and it's just like, to record the pickups there's just no one in your ear. Literally they send you a PDF and like, "Read this line, read this line, read this line." So you're doing it on your own, and you get to that weird space where you read it one time and you're like, "All right, that was good." But then you're like, "I could do that a little better." So you do it a little better. Next thing you know you're 16 takes in on one line because you want to do the best line on your audiobook, because you realize this audiobook is probably going to outlive you.
Desus: Being able to be authentic Bronx residents that made a podcast that is authentically from the Bronx that resonates anywhere across the world, that is something not everyone else can pull off and I think that's probably the secret to our success.
This audiobook is going to be here for quite some time, some sad, white kids in 40 years are going to have to take a college course based on this book, and they’re going to have to listen to the audiobook, and you want them to enjoy the audiobook while they hate you for forcing them to take this course because, listen, I'm feeling how I felt when I learned about Jane Austen, all right? I loved all those stories, but I didn't have to read all of it. That was mean, and that's the whole reason we wrote the book. It wasn't about teaching people, it wasn't about making money, it was about ruining college kids' future education, all right? So write those papers—
Mero: There you go, enjoy that. You know what I'm saying?
Desus: Write the papers, all right? Get that [mess] out there, bro. Yeah.
Mero: What's your thesis on shoplifting?
Abby: You're killing me. So, I've only listened to the book... I didn't read it, I didn't get to consume all those all caps, Mero, thank you for that, but tell me other ways that this audiobook is different. What's the value add to the audiobook versus the print?
Mero: For fans of the show and the podcast, it's like we're reading a podcast to you, essentially, do you know what I mean? It's like an extra…but there's more to it, it's like a deeper dive. If we did a 60-minute podcast, this would be it. Do you know I'm saying? We get into some serious stuff, and it's just like you get to hear our voices, which is what people have become accustomed to, that's the way they're used to digesting what we do.
So it's just like, that's a layup, do you know what I mean? We wrote it…I've always written the way I speak, There’s a lot of “you know what I'm sayings?" in the book. It had to come out on Audible as well, you know?
Desus: The audiobook is cool, but sadly we're unable to get the people we wanted to do our voices because of the budget. We had to read it ourselves, because ideally, I wanted Iggy Azalea to read my chapter. I wanted her to not use a Southern accent. I wanted her to use her original Australian accent. Apparently logistically, legally she's not able to do that, so my second choice was Papa John. He wanted nothing to do with that. Mero, who were your two choices?
Mero: Speaking of Iggy Azalea, I chose TI but he kept replacing all my words with hyper-multisyllabic words, and I was like, "Bro, this doesn't even fit in here. This doesn't even sound like me." He was just like, "Well, that is an egregious affront to my literary..." I'm like, "Bruh, literary consciousness? That's not even a real thing." You know what I'm saying?
"Also, how do you balance your hat on your head like that? Can you please teach me? I'm a bald man. Do you know what I mean?" My second choice was Ben or Jerry from Ben and Jerry's, do you know what I mean? Because we got ice cream out right now and those guys are like the top ice cream dudes. I was just like, "Yo." And then I found out that Jerry Garcia is no longer with us, he perished a while ago, you know what I'm saying? I was left with TI which we couldn't do unfortunately, because we didn't have enough time for all those multisyllabic words.
Abby: I think those are all sound, solid choices but I personally am pretty glad that you guys ended up doing it. I think it really is going to be great for the hive. I think it was a good move all around.
Desus: Thank you, Abby.
Abby: Just saying.
Mero: We agree.
Abby: I've got a question for you, and I love this because it speaks to how you translate. How are you guys able to walk that line of being highly entertainingly quasi-problematic and yet still also super woke?
Desus: I think the problem that most people have is, they're not able to envision people like us. The idea that it's hard to be Black in America, you can be woke and unwoke at the same time because not everyone is a perfect balance. Not everyone is like, "Oh my God, I am totally woke all the time, I'm never going to use a slur, I'm never going to say anything that offends anyone." That's not reality, that's not a human. Human people are flawed, human people are nuanced and there's different levels to everything.
Coming from the Bronx, you get into a level where it's like, there's a difference between woke and trying to survive, you know what I'm staying? If you're just trying to pay the rent, you don't care about people's proper genders and stuff like that, if you're just trying to keep the lights on in your house. That's not to say that that's a way to live, that's the reality. That's not saying that person is bad, but there's more pressing issues, you're trying to keep food on the table for your kids, you're trying to keep the landlord from not changing the locks on you.
The easiest example: if you can barely pay your rent, you don't have time to go to a protest. That doesn't mean you don't disagree what the cops are doing. It's just that you don't have that time and that luxury to go out there and talk that way. I think that's the thing people see about us, there's never been...if you look into our history, there's never been a thing where you said something unwoke or ignorant out of malice. It's never been something like, "Yo, we were trying to hurt somebody." At times, we've just said things that have not necessarily been high level, but that's just because of what we were taught, or where we were brought up, or the people we've been around.
That's what the book entails, is the beauty of us growing in that and then realizing from our first podcast, there's certain jokes we wouldn't even put in our head on the new podcast. People are always giving us...you know, not people giving a shit, but people were like, "These guys aren't funny," cancel culture is killing humor. But if you saw our podcast, it's still funny. It's still funny without the use of slurs, it's still funny without the use of punching down on people you don't need to punch down on. That's the beauty of it.
At the end of the day, you can say whatever you want about us but we're very proud of the people we've become, and the fact that we've become good people that help the world, but we haven't turned our backs on who we were in the Bronx, we've just grown and just become better people. That's what people were like. People were just like, "Yo, even when these guys make missteps, they're still trying." And there's an earnestness there. I think that counts for a lot more than if you just come out here like, "Oh, the name of the new Bodega Boys special is Cancel Culture. Yo, all you SJWs is trying to shut us down." That's not us. That is not us, that will never be us. As long as we keep doing that, I think people are going to continue to rock with us.
Mero: Yeah, I feel like it's just a testament to growth. I even wrote about it in the book, man, there's two lanes. There's people who are genuinely interested in moving the conversation forward, and then there's people who are like, "Yo, I'm trying to get this book out. Let me take this motherf**ker down a peg so I can get in that spot." Do you know what I mean? It's tricky, but at the same time it's like a statue. We built a statue to the old us, and now we're like, "Okay, this is how we used to be 1999 BC, and this is us in 2020." Do you know what I mean? You can see the trajectory and the growth. And hopefully that inspires people to think beyond the block.
Like I said in the book, too, there's a lot of people who just don't have access. Like Desus said, you don't have the luxury to go out and protest because you have to put food on the table for your four, five kids or you might be a single parent, you might have two, three jobs. When I was working in the school, there was kids who would leave school and go live in the shelters and stuff. You can't expect those type of people to do the same amount of work as somebody who is lucky enough to be employed, first of all, in this economy, in these times. And second, has the time to do it, to dedicate to it, because if you have a barely living wage job and you're taking care of people, family, parents, whatever, there's a lot more...the priority list is way different for a lot of people in the hood than it is for Joe Schmoe in Suburbia, Illinois.
Abby: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I love that growth aspect with what you guys are talking about.
I'm going to shift gears to something that is very, very important and very deep and very...I'm going to need your full attention on. Since so many of us, and I mean me, is very consumed with the idea that they're washed, I would like for you to, while explaining for the rest of the world what being washed is, help me help them, okay, me, feel better about being washed.
Mero: Abby, you have arrived. You have arrived. You didn't become washed, you've arrived at washedness. There was a red carpet rolled out for you that said, "Welcome to the land of the washed, where we have chill situations, we're not going to go out and rage, we're not going to go to the all-inclusive resort with the bottom shelf liquor and throw up all over the beach. We're going to relax. We're going to sunbathe. We're going to drink out of a coconut. With our Bluetooth speaker playing jazz or something like that next to us." That's what washedness is all about; it's about achieving a level of comfort and being comfortable in your own skin and just being like, "I don't give a f**k what y'all 22-year-olds are doing. I don't care. I'm grown, homie. I've got equity. F**k you. Get out of here, bruh."
Mero: And also, there's not an age limit on being washed. You can be washed at 23. It's a choice. It comes for everybody eventually, but you choose when you want to be washed.
Desus: Yeah, when washed just hits you, it just comes running, you have no idea when it's coming. It just shows up on you and you don't realize that other people realize that you're washed first, and they're going to start referencing it because it starts with, like you get invited somewhere and the first thing you're like, "Who's going to be there?" Little things like that. Or someone's offering you food and you're like, "What's in the ingredients?" "What happened here?" Little things like that.
Or little small, subtle details. You're on Twitter and you'll see something, and they're like, "Netflix is reintroducing Girlfriends to the lineup." You're like, "We staying in this weekend." Maybe you get home, you put your phone on silent mode, you're not answering no phone calls. Little things like that.
You have a favorite pair of yoga pants that you can't wear outside the house, but they're super comfortable in your bed when you're binge watching, it's stuff like that. Are you at the point when you get home and your whole evening is based on what the trending topics on Netflix are? And that doesn't mean you're watching it, that means you're turning it on and you have it on in the background. You're not even watching it. Now you have Netflix on in the background, you're on Twitter, you're on Facebook, you're in Instagram, you're doing work and stuff, you're doing Zooms but you're still checking out this program, not because you want to watch the program, just so you have something to talk about with your coworkers.
Desus: ...The book's bodega sign would be, "Thank you, Bronx. I love you. You've taken me to this point, I will take you to the next point."
Mero: "Buy this s**t, it's only $18 right now. Do yourself a favor. You're welcome." [Evil cackle]
Now you're not even consuming entertainment for choice, you're just trying to stay cool. You're saying, "Hello, fellow kids, am I cool?" And now, my friend, you are washed. You are washed.
Mero: You're washed. You hit that couch for that Sleepytime tea, boy. Before the credits are rolling you're like—
Mero: And you wake up and act like you know what the f**k was happening in the middle of season two.
Abby: All right. I feel better about this all. I appreciate that. That's taken me a long way, I'm good—
Desus: Listen, we've all been there—
Mero: Washed gang, washed gang in the building.
Abby: Well, I can't end this without asking you the important question, and I know you're used to it and everybody's asking you all the time, but I'm going to switch it up on you a tiny bit.
Desus: Oh, there you go.
Abby: What would be the book's bodega sign?
Desus: The book's bodega sign? The book's bodega sign would be, "Thank you, Bronx. I love you. You've taken me to this point, I will take you to the next point."
Mero: "Buy this s**t, it's only $18 right now. Do yourself a favor. You're welcome." [Evil cackle]
Abby: It's a long one, but that's okay.
Mero: You've got to throw the evil cackle in there too. You're like, "Evil cackle."
Abby: I love it. You guys are great, and I'm really happy that the rest of the world is going to get to listen to God-Level Knowledge Darts: Life Lessons from the Bronx and get to consume all that is and join the hive.
Desus: You know the vibe.
Mero: Yes, yes, yes—
Desus: —the hive. Remember, the ultimate level of joining the hive is dying for the hive. Dark Desus is back! That's right.
Mero: Yo, shout-out to Abby, though, at Audible, you know what I'm saying? Make some noise for Abby West.
Abby: Thank you for all the cred you've just given me with my 22-year-old and my 19-year-old right there.
Desus: Put some respect on her name!
Mero: I was going to say, make that your voicemail greeting, but if you do that then they're going to be like, "You are wild corny. Washed! You use voicemail?"
Abby: Hmmm. Maybe, okay [laughs]. You guys are amazing, thank you so much.
Desus: Abby, thank you for taking some time to sit down with us. Shout-out to Audible.com.