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Whitlock: Showtime bamboozled Desus and Mero and black America

Op-ed
Bravo / Contributor, Jamie McCarthy / Staff, Tara Ziemba / Stringer | Getty Images

Twenty years ago, back when Spike Lee attempted to disrupt Hollywood’s bigoted culture rather than profit from it, the famous director produced the movie "Bamboozled."

The comedic satire depicted a struggling television network’s rise thanks to the surprising success of a black minstrel show that featured two lead black characters – Mantan and Sleep ’n Eat – wearing blackface, dancing, and talkin' jive.

"Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show" was the brainchild of a frustrated Ivy League-educated black executive who created the show to embarrass his white boss. Instead, the show made Pierre Delacroix rich and famous and saved CNS, the fictional Continental Network System.

"Bamboozled," released in 2000, foreshadowed real-life network television in the aftermath of "The Cosby Show" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." Hollywood pivoted from showcasing black, traditional families living the American dream to leaning into black debauchery, ignorance, and anti-American sentiment. Hollywood followed hip-hop’s depiction of black America.

And that explains why Showtime invested four years and millions of dollars into Desus Nice and the Kid Mero, the Mantan and Sleep ‘n Eat of talk television.

Yesterday, Showtime announced it was not renewing "Desus & Mero" for a fifth season. Their late-night show flopped four years ago. It was stillborn, dead on arrival. With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as its first guest, it debuted in February of 2020 to 150,000 viewers and quickly descended into utter irrelevance, drawing as few as 30,000 viewers some weeks.

Given its access to guests – Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Denzel Washington, Chris Rock, Lil Nas X, John Legend, Samuel L. Jackson, Matt Damon, Idris Elba, Stacey Abrams, and Megan Rapinoe, among many others appeared on the show – the collapse and failure of "Desus & Mero" is rather stunning. Showtime tried everything. New time slots. More marketing. Additional programming. Fawning news stories. Appearances at celebrity events.

No one watched. "Desus & Mero" couldn’t build an audience because the alleged comedians weren’t funny, smart, profound, or bold. They were a stereotype. They cursed, said the N-word, giggled like they were high, and spewed the left-wing and Alphabet Mafia talking points Showtime handed them.

“House negroes handcuffed by Hollywood handouts.”

That’s what should appear on the tombstone of "Desus & Mero."

It won’t. The Hollywood trade publications and social media apps portrayed the end of Desus and Mero as a duo like it was the breakup of Sonny and Cher, Ike and Tina, the Allman Brothers, or EPMD.

Variety Magazine claimed “Desus and Mero split up, ending Showtime series after four seasons.” People Magazine said the pair ended the show to pursue individual creative endeavors. The New York Times followed the agreed-upon narrative, reporting that the show “upended the traditional model for late-night talk shows.”

No outlet that I could find mentioned that the show was a complete ratings failure, unfunny, and never made news. "Desus & Mero" made Bill Simmons’ failed HBO show, "Any Given Wednesday," seem like the second coming of "The Sopranos." HBO canceled Simmons’ show 17 episodes into its first season. "Any Given Wednesday" averaged 203,000 viewers. "Desus & Mero" failed to reach that many viewers when Barack Obama granted them an interview.

Again, HBO dumped Simmons in season one. "Desus & Mero," despite dwindling bad ratings, got four seasons.

If we’re going to compare the end of Desus and Mero to a music breakup, let’s compare it to N.W.A.:

Negroes With (No) Aptitude.

That’s what Hollywood prefers. Negroes with no aptitude will say and think whatever they’re told. Handouts come with handcuffs.

Like Mantan and Sleep ‘n Eat in "Bamboozled," Desus and Mero did not earn their network TV shows. They had a very brief flirtation with relevance and success on Vice. Showtime plucked the pair because they would be easy to control during the election cycle. In 2019, all the corporate TV networks – from Fox News to CNN to Comedy Central all the way down to your local news station – doubled down on removing Donald Trump from the White House.

Showtime hired Desus and Mero to serve as black male operatives for the Democratic Party. Showtime and the DNC believe black people, particularly black men, are stupid. Showtime paid Desus and Mero to be stupid, to put on a weekly minstrel show that featured them engaging with AOC, Stacey Abrams, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Maxine Waters, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Anthony Fauci.

Desus and Mero, mediocre comedians and less than mediocre thinkers, stood as reminders that cool and righteous young black men support Democrats, the LGBTQ+ movement, and Black Lives Matter.

They’re paid influencers. The problem is the show lacked the reach to influence people. So after four years, Showtime moved on and will seek out a new pair of house negroes to handcuff.

More than likely, Showtime will try to expand the "All the Smoke" podcast featuring Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson into a late-night talk show. They’re tall, athletic, better-looking versions of Desus and Mero. They love drugs. They love money. They believe hip-hop is a religion and culture capable of saving black people. They know virtually nothing about politics.

They’ll happily do what they’re told and serve as black male stereotypes.

They can be easily bamboozled.

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