Three Great Things: Jordan Firstman

The lead actor and executive producer of the new comedy Rotting in the Sun gives us a glimpse into his headspace right now.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the September 8 release in theaters of Sebastián Silva’s dark comedy Rotting in the Sun, starring comedian Jordan Firstman and Silva himself as versions of themselves, the funny and subversive Firstman shared some of things that he’s most engaged with at the moment. — N.D.

Bruce Wagner
The thing that has gagged me the most in the past year was my discovery of Bruce Wagner. I read his 2020 novel The Marvel Universe, which is a masterpiece, and then I got deeper into his work. (Kate Berlant recommended The Marvel Universe, which I think she had heard about from John Early, just so John gets his flowers!) I was already a big fan of Maps to the Stars, so when I found out Bruce Wagner wrote that movie, I kind of stalked him a little bit and he’s now become a friend and mentor. He is the biggest inspiration in my life at the moment. It’s very rare to find a new person that you didn’t know of before, with an entire body of work in which every single thing is incredible.

The Marvel Universe is almost two books in one. It’s about a billionaire orphan who weighs 800 pounds and is obsessed with My 1,000 Pound Life and a fictional actress who has a cult following from Arrested Development, both of whom end up getting rare diseases. It’s very eerie and mystical, and it blew my mind. The cultural commentary and the social media commentary are both incredible and as I was reading it, I thought, “Bruce Wagner must be, like, a 38-year-old gay guy.” But then I met him and it turns out he’s a 66-year-old straight man who somehow knows how people speak on social media and processes culture in a way that’s mind-blowing. He and I have dinner together and he gives me the best advice I’ve ever received. It’s so deep and spiritual … and wrong. He’s really not politically correct. It’s really cool.

I want more people to be hip to Bruce Wagner. He’s written 12 or 13 books, and all the ones I’ve read are amazing. He’s so prolific and writes like a beast. He just sits down and goes for 18 hours, until he loses the feeling in his feet and ankles. His latest book is called Roar, which is a fictional oral biography, written in the voices of famous people, which he gets down so perfectly. He’s the coolest person I know.

Bruce Wagner with Jordan Firstman. (Photo by Jamie Rose.)

Whipped Cream (and/or the Question of Dairy on Dairy)
I was eating an ice cream sundae the other day and I thought, why are there two textures of the same product here? Whipped cream on ice cream? It’s the same substance, so why do we need a soft thing above another soft thing that’s made of the same ingredients? I was trying to figure out if I like things that have the same ingredients but different textures, because I feel like chefs also try to do that with things like foam.

I don’t know if my thoughts on this issue are fully formed, but the human desire to want to do everything with natural substances is interesting to me. We don’t really know why we’re here, so we’re just trying to make everything we have into anything else, to try to figure it out more. With dairy, it’s as if the cow wasn’t enough – we had to use everything the cow had while it was living and then everything it had when it died, too. And then there’s the question of how people originally worked out that cow’s milk tasted good. But if I’m being real, I look at udders and think, “Something good’s going to come out of there.” If you see udders, you just have to squeeze one. If I see something hanging off of someone’s body, I have to suck it and get the milk out of it!

At the end of the day, I really like whipped cream and I like ice cream. I maybe even like whipped cream a bit more than ice cream. I’d like to put as much stuff in whipped cream as we do in ice cream (the amount of shit they put in ice cream now is absurd), but I guess that the texture and consistency means all the chunks would just drop to the bottom … When I had that sundae recently, I thought, Maybe this isn’t working. Maybe the ice cream is just better alone, but I accept whipped cream way more on, say, a hot chocolate, which, again, is another form of dairy. It’s dairy on dairy.

I guess whipped cream is just a big thing on my mind right now. I’m not strongly for or against it, and I don’t know when I’ll land on an answer, but when I do, I’ll certainly let you know.

The Conversation in Berlin about Mephedrone
I feel like if you go to certain scenes at certain moments, everyone is talking about one thing. This summer, I was in Berlin, where there’s a funny conversation happening about a class of drugs called mephedrone, specifically two different compounds of it, 3-MMC and 4-MMC. In every stall in Berlin, people are discussing whether the vibe is more 3-MMC or 4-MMC, what the benefits are, what gives you more of a comedown and what hurts more to snort. My whole summer, I was around these conversations. I thought it was so funny that this was the hot button conversation, particularly because when people started testing these drugs, it turned out what they were being sold was actually 3-CMC, which doesn’t get you as high and has a worse comedown. But the general consensus is that a real 3-MMC is the best one.

In Berlin, they take their drugs very seriously. It’s like how a Brooklyn hipster in 2013 would talk about craft beer. They know what’s going on and they know where it’s coming from, because drugs are such a big part of the culture and people don’t want any accidents. It really does ruin the vibe when someone overdoses, so people look out for each other. If you do GHB, you can pass out, which can be really dangerous, but it’s manageable if your friends take care of you. G has taken hold of New York now, but people don’t look after their friends, they just kind of leave them passed out. But in Berlin, that would never happen. If you see someone collapsing, even if you don’t know them, you say, “OK, the next 30 minutes are not mine anymore.” It is annoying and people should take their drugs responsibly, but there is a level of camaraderie in Berlin because drugs have been part of the culture for so long. Whereas in the states, where everything is excessive here to begin with, when people discover a new drug, they just go crazy and only think about themselves.

I am always very much writing about what’s around me, and I am currently working on a movie about nightlife and drugs. A lot about drugs. So these observations will seep their way into my work. It’s just a little harder when I have to then expand this into something everyone will understand, because I fundamentally want to make work for my peers. But the struggle with writing about niche culture is that you have to explain so much for a general audience, which can then become corny. It can be done, but then I also wonder, do I even want to blow up the spot of an underground niche culture? It’s a complex question, so I guess I’ll just make a political statement and advise people to get your drugs tested and be careful!

Jordan Firstman is the lead actor and executive producer of Sebastián Silva’s new dark comedy Rotting in the Sun, out in theaters September 8 from Mubi. He’s an actor-writer-director best known for his popular “Instagram Impressions” and was recently seen in the Marvel limited series Ms. Marvel and Kenya Barris’ You People, opposite Jonah Hill, Eddie Murphy, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. He has written, directed, and starred in several acclaimed short films, including Sold, The Disgustings, Men Don’t Whisper (which was included in both Sundance and SXSW), and Call Your Father, which was recently included in the Criterion Collection. His television credits include HBO Max’s Search Party, for which he served as a producer in Season 4 and also recurred as an actor, and Big Mouth, where he was a consulting producer. He also directed multiple episodes of the Peabody nominated Sundance TV series, This Close, and previously served as a story editor on the Comedy Central series The Other Two.