The Origins of the First Time Meme: James Franco’s Awkward Grin

First Time Meme

The “First Time?” meme featuring James Franco is an interesting case study in the evolution and spread of internet memes. Originating from a scene in the movie “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” directed by the Coen Brothers, this meme gained popularity for its relatable and versatile format.

Origin and Spread

  • Movie Scene: The meme originates from the 2018 anthology film “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” In the segment titled “Near Algodones,” James Franco’s character, a cowboy, finds himself about to be hanged for the second time in the story. He turns to another man on the gallows who appears scared, and asks, “First time?”
  • Relatability & Humor: The scene’s humor and Franco’s nonchalant delivery quickly caught the attention of internet users. It resonated with many because it humorously and succinctly captures the feeling of experiencing a challenging or bizarre situation for the first time.

Meme Mechanics

  • Versatility: The meme’s format is simple yet versatile. It typically features a screenshot of Franco with the caption “First time?” This format is easily adaptable to various contexts, making it popular for expressing a shared experience of a “first time” that is actually a common and often frustrating situation.
  • Spread Across Platforms: It quickly spread across platforms like Reddit, Twitter, and Instagram, evolving with each new adaptation. The meme became a way for people to bond over shared experiences, whether trivial or significant.

First Time Meme Examples

First Time Meme
First Time Meme
First Time Meme
  1. Academic Context: A student fails a test and sees others upset about failing for the first time. The meme is captioned with Franco asking, “First time?” This resonates with students who have experienced similar situations, bringing a humorous twist to the common experience of academic challenges.
  2. Workplace Scenario: An employee is overwhelmed by a huge influx of emails after a holiday. The meme can be used here to humorously express the feeling of being swamped with work, especially if it’s a routine occurrence, and the “First Time?” caption captures the jaded feeling of a seasoned worker.
  3. Gaming Community: In the gaming world, it might be used when an experienced player sees a newcomer reacting to a notoriously difficult part of a game. The meme perfectly encapsulates the shared experience of struggling with a tough game level.
  4. Pop Culture: When a new plot twist in a TV series shocks newer fans, but long-time fans are used to such surprises. The meme can be employed to humorously address the predictability of plot twists in long-running shows.
  5. Health and Fitness: A person tries a particularly challenging workout for the first time and is exhausted, while regular gym-goers might find it normal. The “First Time?” meme humorously captures this difference in experience.
  6. Technology and Social Media: When someone complains about their smartphone battery dying quickly, and they’re met with the “First Time?” meme from users who have faced this issue for years, it brings a light-hearted touch to a common technological annoyance.
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Cultural Impact

  • Shared Experiences: The “First Time?” meme illustrates the power of humor in connecting people across different backgrounds. It has been used to comment on everything from mundane life challenges to significant societal events, showing its range and adaptability.
  • Evolution of Memes: This meme also represents the evolution of internet culture. What starts as a moment in a film can quickly become a part of global digital language, transcending its original context and gaining new meanings.


The “First Time?” meme, featuring James Franco, showcases the dynamic nature of internet culture. Its origin from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” and subsequent spread across the internet highlights how a single moment can become a universal way to communicate shared experiences, frustrations, and humor. As with many memes, it serves as a testament to the creativity and connectivity of online communities.

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