Josh Ostrovsky, known to his 5.7 million Instagram followers as “The Fat Jew,” just signed with major Hollywood agency CAA.
As The Hollywood Reporter’s exclusive reveals, the 30-year-old social media star has used the fame from his @thefatjewish posts, which regularly garner hundreds of thousands of likes, to land representation from an agency that also lists Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, and Helen Mirren as clients.
This could be a story of grassroots success, one of those started-from-the-bottom, 21st century rags-to-riches rises. All you need is a smartphone and a dream to make it in America!
Except for one thing: The Fat Jew is a plagiarist.
He does not refer to himself that way. He refers to his work as aggregation. But his definition of “aggregation” is “a post that is lifted directly from someone else but presented as if it is his own work.” Aggregation is … not that. For the uninitiated, this very post is a work of aggregation! You can tell because all the news sources are credited and linked. Plus, there is value-add, like these fun asides directly from this writer to you that you just can’t find anywhere else.
Aggregation is tricky in any form of media, but in comedy it’s particularly fraught. Social media has been a boon for some comedians who can leverage the free platforms into showcases for their work, ultimately landing jobs as a result. (A perfect example: Megan Anram, who went from tweeting-while-unemployed to writing for Parks and Recreation.) But Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr have also made it easier than ever to snag someone else’s content and share it as your own; constant vigilance alone cannot protect a comedian from this theft. Savvy — yet arguably insensitive and selfish — types like Ostrovsky are able to profit from the work of others. He nets somewhere in the neighborhood of $6,000 for each mention of a branded product in an Instagram post or tweet. As the Financial Times reported last month, “his income from advertising alone could now be running at a rate of several hundred thousand dollars a year.”
Comedians have called out Ostrovsky’s blatant joke thievery before, and though he has responded to individual accusations by belatedly giving credit, he has not changed his typical practice of posting jokes without credit.
In one instance, from just over two weeks ago, comedian Devon Magwood posted this joke on Twitter:
Going to start dressing like a Lion. That way cops know that if they kill me. White people will avenge me pic.twitter.com/FIFfcJwOQH
— Davon Magwood (@davonmagwood) July 30, 2015
When the exact same joke appeared on The Fat Few (as well as @FuckJerry, another repeat offender in the joke-stealing department) without attribution, Magwood posted an open letter on his website. Such blatant theft, he wrote, “shouldn’t be the nature of the beast”:
If it’s my stuff you’re posting, and if you give me credit, then I get traffic to my site, maybe that traffic goes to my comedy album and then I get paid for my work! I shouldn’t have to asked to be credit for my work… You should assume that If I’m posting online that I want credit for whatever you share.
Only after Magwood’s letter went up did Ostrovsky add a credit to the Instagram post. After the news about CAA signing Ostrovsky broke, writer Maura Quint wrotea Facebook post deriding Ostrovsky’s tactics:
“The Fat Jew is someone whose entire career is simply stealing jokes from tumblr, twitter, etc. He is making a living off of the hard work of other people. The people he steals from are struggling writers, comedians, etc. They would love to be able to profit from THEIR OWN WORK but can’t because this complete waste of a person is monetizing their words before they even have a chance to.
She screenshotted that post and shared it on Twitter, where Patton Oswalt noticed it and responded in a series of tweets and retweets calling Ostrovsky an “internet plagiarist.” Forces have aligned against Ostrovsky, but — so far — Ostrovosky appears to be suffering little to no professional repercussions for his actions.
Now you could make the argument that there’s no such thing as a new idea, that even this original joke from Magwood is not, at core, original. In fact, a joke with a very similar thesis and execution was at the center of one of the best episodes of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Titus, a large, black man, commutes to his job at a Dracula-theme restaurant in his werewolf makeup and costume, only to find New Yorkers are kinder to werewolves than they are to men of color. But this is so clearly not the case of “great minds think about systemic racism alike!” This is nothing but copy, paste, and post.
CAA was not immediately available for comment.