If you’ve been on Instagram at any point during the pandemic — and let’s face it, you have — you’ve probably seen Jordan Firstman’s face. Posts from celebrities like Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, and Chrissy Teigen about Firstman’s hilarious series of “Impression” videos have catapulted him from 15,000 to 260,000 (and counting) followers on the social-media platform in just three months’ time. Firstman, a television writer and filmmaker who’s written for Big Mouth, The Other Two, and Search Party, is no stranger to a viral moment. In January, he wrote the song dedicated to LGTBQ representation in film sung by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles for the Indie Spirit Awards, which culminated with a celebration of all things Laura Dern.
With his “Impression” series, however, he’s the one in front of the camera. Firstman’s impressions are not your typical SNL fare lambasting other celebrities with wigs and accents. He does impressions of, well, anything and everything. From a woman ordering her first post-quarantine coffee to the concept of “Summer 2020,” Firstman’s impressions run the gamut from the unnervingly relatable to the wildly absurd. Vulture recently hopped on a Zoom call with the Los Angeles–based Firstman and talked about his impressions, his creative process, and what it’s like to DM with Ariana Grande.
So tell me how this all began.
I think the first one I ever did was the celebrity on Instagram Live.
Iconic. [Laughs.] The first week was completely natural. One would come to me and I would just do it … I think a reason that they do well is that it’s seven videos in one, and if you don’t connect to one, you’re gonna connect to another. It’s easier to get a lot of shares because there’s something for everyone in these batches. If one is too dark for them or if one is too corny for them, they can find something.
Your first major celebrity fan was Ariana Grande. What was that like?
Yeah, that was huge … It had been so in my world. You know, like some of the SNL people were commenting, and I was like, That’s really cool, but it was very tangible. And then Ariana … I just checked my phone. What I saw was people tagging Ariana being like, “love you, queen!” and I was like, Why are people tagging Ariana Grande in my post? And then I went to the post, and it was … I forget what her comment was [on], I think it was Jelly Bean Greenaway. Was it that one?
It was Jelly Been Greenaway.
[Laughs.] I was like, What the fuck?! And then I went to her Stories and saw she had posted it and I was like Whoa. I called my sibling — I was kind of freaking out because I wasn’t used to anything like this. And her fans came like a swarm of bees.
Are they so intense?
They came and they devoured my profile. They literally ate it up and then just left. It was literally like a swarm. It was like everything I had ever posted was like “Ariana notice me. Ariana notice me!” Like, everything. I was like, Wait, is this gonna be forever? and then they just left. But [Ariana and I] ended up DMing for a while that night just having a heart-to-heart, which was really wild.
What is Ariana Grande like in a heart-to-heart?
Just so real and funny and nice. I was like, What is happening?! It just feels like I’m talking to my friend, but this is the most famous woman in the world. She responded to one of my videos, “cheeks hurt from smiling. You are the best.”
Everyone’s doing front-facing videos right now while in quarantine. Why do you think yours are blowing up?
Okay, so I have to give some credit to [comedian and actor] Ruby McCollister for this, because we were talking about it and she said it so eloquently. She was like, “You’re putting a home base to the meme.” With memes, the whole thing is no one knows where they come from. And I’m giving you the video, the caption, and the creator all in one. And I think it’s because there’s such a mixture of characters and concepts. Some of the impressions are truly just concepts; they could be a joke on Twitter. But I’m personifying it and making it into a character. I can’t explain because people like them for different reasons. Like a lot of people love Banana Bread Publicist.
She’s great because she’s real. We know her.
She’s real. But then other people, like the concept of friendship … these are all part of of my thing: I look outward and then kind of process it from an inward place. I think that’s the other thing about the observational aspect of it is that it is all being filtered through my thoughts about life and my soul and my experience. And so it’s not just like, “Baristas be like!”
Something that I love about them is that they are all you. There’s nothing added. No affectations, no wig work.
I made that decision very early on that this is going to be me talking to camera. I’ll do different characters, but they’re all me. I challenge the audience to suspend their disbelief if I’m doing the character right. That publicist could have had a blonde wig, but you feel her. My goal is that you know exactly who Mother Earth is by the language and the way I’m performing it, so I don’t need the other stuff. Also, I think something about it clicking is that it’s very low production, and they do feel spontaneous and they can happen at any moment. If I have an idea, I’ll whip out the camera and do it.
I have a notes section where I write down the impression ideas, but I don’t really like to write them out. Sometimes when I have the idea I’ll be like, “This line would be good in that.” I find I rarely do more than three takes, but some of them are kind of sloppy; they’re kind of messy. I’ll mess up a word, but it’s about the point, you know? My whole thing has never been about perfection.
Do you have a favorite impression?
I really love Jelly Bean Greenaway. I love the actress talking about an animated film. I literally had never heard anyone make that observation before. And that one really did come to me in the middle of the night, and I woke up and had to do it. I might have been on a ton of NyQuil, like I don’t even remember. I just had to do it. That and Mother Earth were both, like, bedtime moments.
When Katy Perry posted your video to her Instagram grid, what ran through your brain?
It feels weird saying saying this myself, but I was just like, Whoa, this doesn’t really happen. I was like Something is going on. She had followed me a couple of weeks prior and she wrote me something really funny, because the day she followed me, I posted something about how I was going to do mushrooms and putting my phone away and I wanted something amazing to happen on social media while I was away.
From your mouth to God’s ears.
And then while I was on mushrooms Katy Perry followed me. And then there was like a DM exchange. I remember seeing a DM from Katy Perry saying, “the mushrooms led me to you.” [Laughs.] I’ve had some people that I’m really huge fans of and have been for a while reach out.
Who are some of your personal favorites? I know Carole Radziwill is one of them.
Oh, my God. I mean, Carole Radziwill is now in my life, which I’m obsessed with. I’d say Elisabeth Moss was a fun one. Jodie Komer, who I’m a huge fan of. She’s been really nice. Also, Sarah Jessica Parker.
I think the other reason that a lot of celebrities and artists are watching is because it’s in the DNA of these that it’s like, Oh, this is not an influencer. This is someone expressing their creativity through this certain platform, but this is not an influencer.
Okay, gun to your head: Katy Perry or Ariana Grande?
I don’t choose family like that. I can’t choose between my two sisters. [Laughs.] Actually, Katy is mom, Ari is sister.
This interview has been edited and condensed.