Mr Jordan Firstman Is So Much More Than An Instagram Comedian
Mr Jordan Firstman’s unlikely story of pandemic success goes like this: at the start of the year, a week into a messy breakup with his long-term boyfriend, he got a call to say that the pilot for the TV show he’d been developing for the past four years had been dropped. With double the rent to pay on his apartment, after his ex moved out, and his career prospects thinning considerably, things were not looking good – even by 2020’s abysmal standards.
In April, he started posting relatable-yet-abstract impressions online (“This is my impression of a gay guy who wants all his gay friends to know that his body actually got better in quarantine”, “This is my impression of someone who used to do musical theatre and now has an office job on a zoom conference”). And over the course of the next few months, the magic happened.
By the time the 18th “season” of Mr Firstman’s Impressions had landed in October, his Instagram following had pushed past 800k, and celebrities including Ms Sarah Jessica Parker, Ms Natalie Portman, Ms Katy Perry and Ms Jennifer Aniston were populating his comments and DMs with fan mail. Ms Katie Couric and Ms Drew Barrymore interviewed him (separately) for their shows, and he starred in a Thom Browne fashion campaign.
In a year where the rest of us sat at home struggling with the first level of German on Duolingo and googling reasons our sourdough tasted like crap, Mr Firstman’s astronomic rise to viral celebritydom has been remarkable to witness, and not just because we’ve had nothing better to do.
“I feel so much more comfortable as a famous person than I did as a not-famous person”
“I’m having this moment, but it’s weird because I’m on the covers of all these magazines, and I’ve never even been in a movie, you know?” he says over a Zoom call.
It’s early December, and he’s sitting in the living room of the same aforementioned LA apartment, now upgraded with a blue sky of clouds painted on the wall behind him. He’s sporting a pearl necklace and a recently dyed slime-green buzzcut that stands out against his dark beard. His expression is permanently cheeky, even when he’s being serious, and he spends most of our time together grinning from hoop earring to hoop earring. As far as celebrities go, the 29-year-old writer only popped out of Hollywood’s womb yesterday, but the fame already fits him well.
“I’m not sure if I’m, like, famous yet,” he says. “And I don’t want to be, like, celebrity celebrity. But I feel so much more comfortable as a famous person than I did as a not-famous person.”
Then there’s the money, which has come in fast. Back in September, Mr Firstman predicted he was maybe going to make $20,000 more than he did the year before, but he was way off. “I guess corporations just take a while to catch up to the internet, and now it got a lot – a lot – bigger,” he says.
He was recently commissioned by Versace to create a short film in which he stars alongside Ms Donatella Versace herself. He says the brand gave him complete creative freedom on the project. “They let me do my exact thing. Like, if I were to make a short film that was not for a brand, I would have made this,” he says. “It’s so fun and so iconic.”
A portion of the money he’s earnt this year has gone to completely redecorating the LA apartment he rents, complete with a custom-built, fur-covered bed and jaguar-print ottomans. The all-out transformation was picked up by Architectural Digest. “Very ‘me’ vibes, not to think about the future, but I didn’t tell my landlord. But I’m like, I got you on AD, bitch!” he says. “I’m adding value!”
The rest of his newfound wealth has been used to buy clothes: “I’m getting really into fashion and I deeply care about it,” he says. “How I am dressing is more important to me than just like looking hot. After the vaccine comes out, maybe I’ll be going to more fancy parties, I want to have some really fab looks and get photographed. A psychic told me I’m allowed to get lost in the glamour for a bit, but I’ll find my way back.”
Mr Firstman is one of the stars of a new wave of revolutionary online comedians – see also Ms Elsa Majimbo, Mr Benito Skinner, Ms Megan Stalter and Ms Lauren Servideo – who have blown up in a big way this year thanks to their knack for absurd, hard-and-fast comedy that has chimed perfectly with the now.
Blame it on the fact that we’ve all spent more time staring at our phones lately, but relatable, shareable bite-sized sketches that are often totally bizarre (Mr Firstman’s most popular skit is the notorious “This is my impression of banana bread’s publicist”) represent a breakout genre of insta-comedy that is resonating with millions.
“No one has any attention span,” Mr Firstman reasons. “I think movies are dead, I truly do. I see a world where we’re able to pack the emotional punch into a shorter amount of time and everything can be like the first 10 minutes of Up! It seems to me like that’s where it’s going.”
The popularity of TikTok is evidence of the appetite that young people have for short-form content, but Mr Firstman is skeptical as to whether the mainstream entertainment industry can respond to it effectively: “TV is filled with old people who are literally not thinking this way at all. But I’m so tapped into the internet and I am thinking this way.”
Plus, Mr Firstman has had plenty of TV experience himself. He grew up in Long Island, but moved to LA when he was 21 to pursue a career in show business. And while his impressions on social media may have given him his breakthrough some eight years later, before that he enjoyed a relatively successful career as a TV writer, working on shows such as Search Party, and most recently Netflix’s Big Mouth.
He’s also written and starred in his own short films. Men Don’t Whisper is one: an impressive, polished short about a gay couple who, after feeling emasculated at a sales conference, convince themselves that in order to prove their masculinity they should try to sleep with some women. It’s complex, clever stuff that digs deep into masculine identity and internalised homophobia. Not surprisingly, it’s all tied together with punchy comedy.
For his following to have ballooned as much as it has could have been daunting – an unfathomable pressure to impress the hundreds of thousands now coming to him for entertainment. But, Mr Firstman says it has emancipated him from the self-doubt he struggled with before.
“I felt like for so many years I was trying to prove myself,” he says. “To prove I was worthy and prove that I was talented and prove that I was hot or whatever. And once you get that [affirmation], it means you can focus on it less. Like, oh, I can take a break from like hating myself. I probably have this written down in a diary somewhere, but I spent so much of my twenties worrying about work instead of doing it. Worrying about work is still working, of course, it’s just not the right way to work.”
He’s now keen to break free from the Instagram impressions bubble, even if it’s what made him famous. “I’ve always hated being reduced,” he says.
When he was 18, he was told he couldn’t do “serious” roles, because he was “funny”, and that was that. “It stuck with me. And for so long, I hated people saying I was funny, even, because I feel like I’m so much more than that. I’ve had such a journey in accepting that I can be taken seriously, while being funny, because I feel like the depths of me are so expansive.”
Mr Firstman’s queer identity informs a lot of the work he does, but he has a complicated relationship with the gay community. “Maybe it’s an energy I feel, but the second I started getting success, I just watched the gays leave, and I watched them not wanting to support me anymore,” he says.
He’s still half-smiling, but when he talks about the mean comments he sees from gay men online, he seems genuinely hurt. For every 50 tweets people post about him being hot and funny and a national treasure, there’ll be one that says his jokes are bombing lately, or that his house is ugly, or that he “needs to be stopped”, and it hits a nerve. Plus, he finds the whole hater thing hard to wrap his head around in the first place, especially when it’s coming from inside the house.
“There’s no reason for a gay person not to support me,” he says. “I’m doing a good thing, and I’m being fucking funny! We could have so many amazing shows and movies, if we only supported each other.”
Then there’s the TV show that got canned late last year – which was, he says flatly, because of homophobia. “They weren’t ready for a controversial real take on gay culture that tapped into some really heavy, dark shit about trauma,” he says.
While the rejection was hard to take, it was a small part of the bigger picture. “It didn’t happen, and now I’m known for doing one-minute videos on the internet,” he shrugs. “That’s what life is right now, and then it’ll evolve into something else. And maybe then I’ll feel completely seen, but probably not then either. It’s a never-ending journey.”
Luckily for the rest of us, he’s taking everyone who appreciates him along for the ride (and is currently developing a new TV show that he says he can’t talk about, but that is getting made).
“I don’t want separation in my life,” he says. “I want my sex life to be in my work life, and I want my social life to be in my sex life, and all of it to flow in and out of each other.”
While this might sound terrifyingly messy to the average person, Mr Firstman’s boundless approach to work, life and romance is something he draws strength from. “I’m not living in a place of scarcity,” he says. “I’m living in a place of abundance. I’m going to be completely myself and I’m still going to be able to make money. That’s what we’re manifesting.”