My parents moved to New York City in 1991. First Queens, then the Bronx. In a small apartment in the Bedford Park neighborhood of the Bronx, they built my family’s first home in America, where, a year later, my aunt and I would depart the Dominican Republic and join them. Throughout the 1990s, family members from the island rotated in and out of that two-bedroom apartment. On summer nights, we would open the windows when the cooking steamed up all the rooms. Throughout the apartment, there was always the smell of rice, beans, plantains and other staples of Dominican cuisine wafting through the rooms.
I still remember what the borough felt like during that decade. I remember my first day at pre-kindergarten at Our Lady of Refuge School, the tears that fell down from my eyes because I did not yet speak English and was terrified to leave my mother’s side. I remember racing my sister and cousins down 198th street toward Valentine Avenue, the same street where my mother worked at a laundromat. Some of my most vivid memories are associated with that place, from the time my mother allowed my sister and me to sell chocolates for school and as an 11-year-old watching on television as two planes hit the Twin Towers. I did not understand what was happening, yet I remember the urgency in my mother’s voice as she called my dad.
While my motherland birthed me, it was the Bronx that made me.
I remember Girl Scout uniforms, softball games in Van Cortlandt Park. Fire hydrants in the summer on Grand Concourse.
While my motherland birthed me, it was the Bronx that made me.
I loved this city, yet the older I grew, the more I noticed how the borough was depicted as something shameful in the wider culture. Aside from hip-hop—born in the Bronx—the pop culture I was consuming did not represent the borough I knew. From my favorite shows and movies to the artists I idolized in teen magazines, no one I watched and read about looked or sounded like the people around me. And if the Bronx was discussed or depicted it was always in reference to how poor we were; how dangerous we were; how ghetto and vulgar we were. One of my first memories at Fordham University was when a fellow classmate asked me, during an icebreaker freshman year after I said I was from the Bronx, if I had ever owned a gun.
Outside of the musical genre I loved, there were no positive portrayals of my city, no love stories based in our city, no poems dedicated to my people.
Until the Bodega Boys.
The Bodega Boys are a comedic duo made up of Daniel Baker, known as Desus Nice, and Joel Martinez, The Kid Mero. In 2013, the pair starred in their first podcast and web series, “Desus v. Mero” on Complex TV. Every Friday, they would release a new episode. Back then, the offices of America were located on 56th street, and I had my own office. Every Friday, I would close the door and blast “Desus v. Mero” as I ate lunch or edited a review.
Before “DvM,” to original Bodega Hive members, as their fans are known, Desus and Mero were infamous for their Twitter humor. Their jokes were sharp and irreverent: Desus would lament about his job and daily life, offering cynical and hilarious musings, while Mero tweeted in all caps about teaching and married life. After “DvM” ended, the comedians appeared on television shows like “Uncommon Sense,” “Guy Code” and “Joking Off.”
Along with solid numbers, Desus and Mero have one of the most diverse teams in late night television.
In 2015, they launched the “Bodega Boys” podcast, which features the two hosts discussing topical issues, from commentary on their beloved and beleaguered Knicks to attending the MTV Video Music Awards and meeting Kanye West to impersonations of Ben Carson and Donald J. Trump. One of the most enjoyable parts of the podcast for me has been recognizing the Bronx streets and locations sprinkled throughout 150 episodes: chopped-cheese bodega sandwiches, the Red Lobster at Bay Plaza, traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway and the commercial for the Kings Harbor Care Center located on Gun Hill Road. (If you’ve never watched the commercial, please do. It’s one of the greatest local commercials I’ve ever seen.)
From 2016 to 2018, the duo starred in “Desus & Mero” on Viceland. It was a 30-minute late-night talk show, running Monday through Thursday, and it played off the style and humor they developed on the podcast. Every night, they riffed off various topical videos and themes—from President Trump’s hair to “Permit Patty,” a white woman who called the police on an 8-year-old black girl selling water. They would also interview a guest, including journalist Soledad O’Brien, sports journalist Bomani Jones, actor and comedian Nick Cannon and political commentators Melissa Harris-Perry and Rachel Maddow. Some of my favorite clips include the commentary on real estate agent Veronica Recinos and a 12-year-old, seven-foot-tall Canadian basketball player.
In February, they launched “Desus & Mero” on Showtime. The series, a weekly 30-minute late-night talk show, features the Bodega Boys discussing news, culture and politics, along with an interview. In the series premiere, they talked with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another Bronxite. According to Hollywood Reporter, the series premiered with 40 percent more viewers than their Viceland series, with an audience of just over one million.
Along with solid numbers, Desus and Mero have one of the most diverse teams in late night television—two hosts of color, one black, one Afro-Latinx, and of the six writers, 50 percent are women, including two black women. They are representing a world that has for so long been kept out of mainstream comedic spaces.
Over six years, I have followed along as Desus and Mero have evolved as comedians. Listening recently to early episodes of the “Desus v. Mero” show, there were several moments where I returned to a joke I once found funny and cringed. Since the premiere of the podcast, they have introduced “The Problematic Light,” a horn that goes off whenever either of them says something insensitive or controversial. And, in recent episodes of the podcast, or “art,” as they call it, they demonstrate a level of self-awareness comedians like Louis C.K., Roseanne Barr or Dave Chappelle seem to lack.
Along with changing how society defines what it means to be funny in 2019, the Bodega Boys have given me—and audiences outside of New York City—an opportunity to see the streets, communities, culture we know reflected in popular culture. As The Kid Mero mentioned in an interview with Vulture’s Hunter Harris: “We’re just from the Bronx. We’re giving you the real: This is how we talk. This is how we dress. This is how we address each other...if you peel back the New York layer, there’s still something relatable under that.”
They, like me and so many black and brown people in America, are members of the Caribbean diaspora, children of immigrants who left other countries behind. Their art is for us.