In Charles Rogers and Jordan Firstman's new short film, Men Don't Whisper, the real-life couple attempt to have sex with women in order to prove their masculinity to one another. Naturally, things go horribly wrong, though it's quite a treat to watch.
Rogers and Firstman are perhaps best known for their work on the TBS hit Search Party (Rogers as one of the show's creators, Firstman as a writer)--in their latest endeavor, the two have collaborated with some impressive talent: the remarkably hilarous Bridey Elliott and Clare McNulty, as well as SNL legend Cheri Oteri.
Below, OUT chatted with the rising comedy writers about who's exciting them in the industry, why they told this story and the impact of laughter in dark political times.
OUT: Let's talk casting. Bridey Elliott and Clare McNulty--both are really fantastic in this, and also worked with you on Ft. Tilden and Search Party. How did you find these two?
Charles Rogers: When my Search Party writing/directing partner, Sarah-Violet Bliss and I were casting our feature, Fort Tilden, she really wanted to cast Clare McNulty, who she constantly refers to as "her absolute bestest friend," and then we both loved these little web videos that Bridey did on her flip phone so we met her in a hotel lobby and then cast her as well. I love these ladies and Jordan is really fortunate to have been brought into this fold. If I hadn't introduced him to successful people, he would have probably killed himself or gotten murdered by now.
Jordan Firstman: I became friends with Bridey and Clare admittedly through Charles. But I have also introduced Charles to many people whom he would have never met without me who are also very talented. And to be frank, I feel that Clare, Bridey and I will ultimately drop Charles as a friend, but that's a long way from now. Months even.
Cheri Oteri is fantastic. How was the process of casting her?
Firstman: Well, obviously Cheri is an American treasure, so she has always been on my mind to put in something. I had to keep my cool and not do the whole Spartan Cheerleader sketch for her. She was a huge part of my childhood, so when she said yes I freaked out. Charles was mostly pitching people from Gilligan's Island and Love Boat because thats what he grew up with, but I had to explain to him that this would be better. Sometime's he can't make the most rational decisions because of his age, but he always comes around.
Rogers: We always wanted Cheri because she is a genius, but we really wanted to make sure that she wanted us as much as we wanted her, so we spent $17,000 creating an obstacle course that she could run through and have to do little challenges along the way, and it ended with us at the finish line with a contract to sign for the movie, but we felt weird about it the morning of, so we e-mailed her instead. Watching her perform the opening scene was one of the most surreal and rewarding moments of my life and it certainly wasn't difficult for me to work with a celebrity because I've directed several megastars, but this was Jordan's first brush with fame and it was really embarrassing to see him try to take the lead. It's hard to watch your lover fail.
Where did the inspiration for this movie come from--is this a real life story?
Rogers: I had never understood true support and love before meeting Jordan. One thing we really wanted to explore in the film is how balanced and equal our partnership is, and we hope that fact bleeds into the dynamic between our characters. Of course, I think that it's fair to say that I serve as more of a mentor to him, and it's been a challenge to stay patient in the face of utter naivety. It's also fair to say that this film is completely mine. Jordan is more like an audience member who came to the theater before the film was ready.
Firstman: Well we are a very supportive, non-competitive couple, first and foremost. This story came out of me looking at Charles and seeing how intensely he struggled with his masculinity. He was always jealous of how well I could connect with my masculine and feminine sides so seamlessly and effortlessly. And I would watch him, stiff, filled with fear, immobile, and I said, "We need to explore this on screen." So although he only wrote one or two lines of the film himself, he is intrinsically a part of this film in a deep way.
You've clearly worked with John Early often, as well. Which actors and writers are you most interested in working with in the future? And specifically, what gay comedians are most exciting to you, right now?
Rogers: My favorite out gay comedians are Dax Shepherd, Dane Cook, Patton Oswalt and Josh Gad.
Firstman: I feel like I am a part of a really great LGBTQ creators community here in LA. Because Charles has so much internalized homophobia, a lot of my friendships have been compromised because he is so hard to be around for most people. But if Charles weren't in the picture these are the people I would be closer with and work with all the time: Jeffery Self, Jim Hansen, Sam Pancake, Drew Droege, Casey Brown, Dan Robert, Brendan Scannell, Solomon Giorgio, Sabrina Jalees, Jason Greene (Freckle), and Casey Ellison.
Firstman: We will hopefully make this a feature in which we would most likely have to recast Charles in order to get any money for the film. I think his role could also be cut and it wouldn't make a huge difference. I am also working on some TV ideas and writing Season 2 of Search Party.
Rogers: Jordan and I are toying with the idea of how to expand Men Don't Whisper. Right now we are partnering with a virtual reality company from Dubai who wants to make it a 4D ride experience--we are aiming for Busch Gardens. The one hiccup is that they want to replace Bridey's face with Claire Daines' and they're being extremely aggressive about it so everything might turn legal. Or we might make a feature version of it instead. And season 2 of Search Party comes out later this year.
What do you feel is the importance of comedy and storytelling in the age of Trump?
Rogers: Hopefully the way to destroy Trump is to make good things. Or maybe we are just going to die anyway, in which case we should make good things up until the end.
Firstman: All jokes aside, I think this could be a great time for art if we do it right. Our biggest defense is our intellect and heart, so I'm excited to use more of both in my work going forward. Networks and studios will hopefully realize now with Moonlight's win that there is money to be made in telling stories we have not told. And I do feel like diverse people, LGBTQ and POC, are ready to take the front seat and do amazing work that is good for humanity. It's a scary time for the world but an exciting time for art.
The full film is available for streaming at Go90.com.