At the beginning of the pandemic, Instagram feeds everywhere were flooded with images of freshly baked banana bread. The performance of aspirational domestic bliss seemed to help soothe our collective anxiety about the future. In May, at the height of the baking craze, comedian Jordan Firstman took to Instagram to post an impression video where he played “banana bread’s publicist” (“The plan worked: we got everyone at home, we got them a bunch of rotted bananas, and they went off!”).
On a platform where anyone can call themselves a “content creator,” his unique brand of zeitgeisty comedy laced with cultural critique has earned Firstman more than 800,000 followers and counting, including the likes of Chrissy Teigen and Natalie Portman. “If I have seen the joke before, that point of view, I’m not doing it,” says Firstman, whose other impressions include “regular clothes seeing runway clothes for the first time” and “summer 2020”. “That’s my number one rule.”
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The abrupt nature of viral fame can obscure the work that came before it. But the 29-year-old Long Island native has been honing his comedic chops for years. Growing up, Firstman knew he was funny, but aspired to be a filmmaker, in part due to how comedy had long been dismissed a lesser art compared to film or music. “When it comes down to it, no comedies get Oscars,” he says. He went on to write for comedy shows like Big Mouth, The Other Two, and Search Party – incisive, (mostly) millennial-helmed series redefining the genre but was still committed to making movies in an effort to be taken seriously. He also directed several acclaimed short films, including 2017’s Men Don’t Whisper, in which Firstman plays one half of a gay couple that turns to sleeping with women in a misguided test of masculinity.
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In conversation, Firstman radiates a remarkable senseof confidence and self-possession, which he credits to an ongoing spiritual quest. “I’m so into learning about myself,” he says with a laugh. One particularly insightful ayahuasca trip last year that “was all about laughing and how important humour is” helped him fully embrace his natural gift as a comedian. “I can really just make people laugh and that can be enough,” he adds.
Shortly after this spiritual breakthrough, he achieved his first viral success: a song he penned celebrating Laura Dern, which was performed by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles at the 2020 Independent Spirit Awards. That validation affirmed his voice and perspective, and he started posting impression videos on his Instagram. His follower count skyrocketed.
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Instagram is making the comedy scene more inclusive than ever before for a new generation of performers, many of whom are queer or of colour, who defy easy categorization. “I hate defining myself at this point because I’m interested in so many different things,” says Firstman. “I’m thinking about things in a different way than I ever have, and I’m seeing an expansiveness in not only myself but in the world. Everything is starting to blend into each other.”
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For him, this involves uniting two unlikely forces: fashion and comedy. Firstman has forged relationships with outré designers from Barragán and Thom Browne, who cast Firstman in his recent campaign, a sign that the fashion establishment is starting to cozy up to this new crop of comedians unabashedly embracing style and glamour a distinct rejection of the hoodie-clad stand-ups they were raised on. “I’m trying to bring comedy to fashion and fashion to comedy,” he says.
Firstman’s future whatever it holds looks bright. And while he may have started his career behind the camera, he’ll certainly appear in front of many more. “I don’t want to say I’m a filmmaker anymore, or a writer, or a comedian, because I’m also a model,” he jokes, his freshly dyed neon hair illuminated by the Los Angeles sunlight. “So, model.”