Josh Gondelman interview: ‘Desus and Mero’ writer
Back in 2017, when Josh Gondelman won his second of four consecutive Emmy Awards as part of the writing staff of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” Emmys host and late-night fixture Stephen Colbert joked of the weekly HBO show, “Apparently they’re so high quality they can only make one a week.” That kind of good-natured ribbing from daily late-night hosts as shows like “Last Week Tonight” and Gondelman’s current home, Showtime’s “Desus & Mero,” have eschewed the nightly format is expected. But as Gondelman explains during Gold Derby’s “Meet the Experts” panel for 2022 Writers Guild Awards nominees, producing a late-night comedy series outside of the expected daily drumbeat is far from a walk in the park.
“I think that we really tried to hold ourselves to a high standard of making it real fun and funny for the audience to watch. We’re not trying to put filler on the air, not that the other shows do,” Gondelman says of “Desus & Mero,” which airs two episodes per week during its season. “We’re kind of in that middle ground, right between a weekly, where they kind of want to make every show like the event of the week, and a nightly, where it’s consistency and stability and then figuring out how to build up big things within that really rigorous structure. I think a show like ours – which is twice weekly and has a pretty slight staff like comparison of some of the shows – is really about finding that balance between when we can carve the time out of the week to do something ambitious.”
So far, so good. Last year, “Desus & Mero” won at the Writers Guild Awards in the Comedy/Variety Talk Series category, beating Gondelman’s former “Last Week Tonight” colleagues in the process. This year, for its acclaimed third season which aired in 2021, the Showtime late-night series is back at the WGA Awards to defend its crown, once again nominated in the same category opposite such heavy hitters as “Last Week Tonight,” “Conan,” and “The Problem with Jon Stewart.”
‘A lot of the writing is kind of highly focused, and at times pretty minimalist in terms of just giving them the prompts, and giving the audience the context they need to understand the riffing and spontaneity,” Gondelman says of how the writing staff works with hosts Desus Nice and The Kid Mero, longtime friends who are comfortable providing unscripted commentary on the latest headlines thanks in part to their years of podcasting and performing stand-up comedy.
“There are things that are written down word-for-word in terms of individual lines and jokes, and things that are written on the page in terms of structure and context and content,” Gondelman adds. “But the stuff that they do in the studio, where they’re riffing on the news, we write a little bit of context, and then they’re so extemporaneous. I think it would be irresponsible of me to not consider that part of the writing of the show as well because that is where so much of the comedy comes from, and we know that it comes from there. So it has been a really exciting and wonderful learning process over the past few years to figure out how to write for people who are just waiting to riff and how they can get used to having people writing for that. And it’s been like a really wonderful period of growing together.”
Gondelman says a key to writing the show has been understanding that dynamic with Desus and Mero, while also making sure to keep the show within the bounds of expectations for late-night comedy. “Without that structure, I think it could very easily just sound like a conversation between two friends that is maybe not a TV show,” he adds. “Not all friendship is a TV show. But their [friendship], fortunately, translates very naturally to the screen.”
Watch the full interview above. “Desus & Mero” is available to watch on Showtime streaming platforms and on-demand now and returns for its fourth season later this year.