Last year, comedian and television writer Patrick Walsh was eating lunch when a friend showed him a funny Instagram image of a daily planner that followed scheduled time blocks of “drugs and alcohol” and “crush pussy” with “meet with accountant to discuss 401K options.” Walsh was the joke’s original creator – but the friend, not knowing this, had seen it on The Fat Jew, an Instagram account run by 33-year-old Josh Ostrovsky. The image on Ostrovsky’s account was nearly identical to the joke Walsh originally posted, with a few crucial differences.
“My name, handle and face had been removed,” Walsh tells Rolling Stone. “The date had been removed. It was mind-blowing to me how blatant it was. Like, the thief was too lazy to even change a couple words around, which is what joke thieves generally do. It was so obvious.”
For years, Ostrovsky has used his social media feeds to blend original humor with aggregated jokes (though mostly the latter), racking up 5.7 million Instagram followers in the process and parlaying his fame into a book deal, modeling contract, Beats 1 hosting gig and numerous brand sponsorships reportedly valued at up to $6,000 a post. Last week, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that Ostrovsky signed a deal with the high-powered talent firm Creative Artists Agency for “representation in all areas.”
But Ostrovsky’s chronic refusal to credit the original authors of his jokes has made him the target of comedians across the web, including high-profile attacks from Patton Oswalt, Michael Ian Black, Kumail Nanjiani, Norm Macdonald and Chelsea Peretti, among many others. (Presumably responding to the criticism, Ostrovsky has begun adding credits to his most recent Instagram posts. Ostrovsky could not be reached for comment for this story.)
Ostrovsky’s methods have been criticized for years, but his CAA deal prompted a new and more vocal round of animus. “Taking work from other people is wrong. This isn’t ambiguous morality; this is something kindergartners know,” says writer Maura Quint, who has been vociferous in her criticism on Twitter and penned a Facebook post excoriating Ostrovsky that went viral. “The more people see him as a success, the more people will want to follow in his filth-covered footsteps. His ‘brand’ is theft.”
“He’ll still have the influence of 6 million people who are mostly oblivious that he’s needlessly profiting off of other people’s creativity,” adds comic Brett Druck. Druck and comedian Nat Baimel started the Twitter handle @FitJew earlier this month, highlighting some of Ostrovsky’s borrowed material, but crediting the original creators. “Any ‘aggregator’ could easily amass that same influence while keeping the creators’ names in there. It’s greed. He needs his [social media] accounts suspended.”
Rolling Stone spoke to eight comedians whose jokes were used, uncredited and without permission, by Ostrovsky to get their side of the story.
Patrick Walsh, 34, Los Angeles
The Fat Jew Joke:
“Being a comedian or a writer is a job just like any other. To see someone this devoid of talent get rich off of almost exclusively stolen material while the people having their stuff stolen struggle is infuriating. I am a television writer — I make a good living — and to me, the theft was an annoying occurrence that wound up blowing up in a huge way. But thinking back to being a struggling writer and trying to get anyone to read my material, this would have absolutely devastated me. Because you’re seeing something you’ve written crack up thousands of people… but they all think someone else wrote it. That’s awful. And this loser reaps all the benefits? Come on.
“CAA, like all talent agencies, is interested in money. Someone with 6 million followers will always be valuable to a talent agency, or to one of the many brands that pay him big money to advertise their products. It’s a guaranteed audience. They don’t care how he got them. But hopefully, if all this puts enough of a stink on him, they’ll start to care.
“People have learned that posting the material of others as their own is a fast track to success without talent. At some point, he’s going to have to actually write stuff, and he’s not going to have any idea what he’s doing. Lazy thieves and untalented people and hacks can conjure up some heat in Hollywood, for sure. And maybe they’ll steal some money out of the cookie jar in the process. But they’re never going to ‘make it’ long haul, if that’s any consolation to the people he stole from (and to many, it probably isn’t). He’s already seen more money than they ever will.
“He cannot remedy the situation. The damage is beyond done. If and when he comes forward and releases the same old bullshit apology that people like this always do, nobody’s going to be like, ‘You know what? This is actually a really good dude.’ And they shouldn’t. Because fuck this guy. Fuck this guy forever.”
Ben Rosen, 29, New York
Just a man enjoying a bottle of wine on a romantic date with his bulldog. pic.twitter.com/inpIicQ6yj
— Ben Rosen (@Rosen) August 14, 2015
The Fat Jew Joke:
“I was amazed that he took the time to crop out my Twitter handle. My tweet never went viral, so he must have grabbed it directly from my handle. I get the concept of ‘curation’ — I work at BuzzFeed — but if you want to curate properly, you need to give proper credit to the author like we do. He works very hard to remove the people from his posts.
“I wrote something on Facebook, since I’m friends with a decent amount of comics, and explained what happened. I was hoping to convince a few friends to unfollow the guy, but I didn’t expect the post to get shared as much as it did.
“People should care about who writes their favorite TV shows and movies and who performs comedy for them when they need a laugh. If you reward aggregators who don’t credit comedians, you’re effectively making it that much harder for them to get noticed. Why would you follow a rising comedian when you can just get all your yuks in one easy-to-find spot? It’s frustrating. Shine the spotlight on the thousands of talented people who work their butts off every day to make something fun for you, not the guy who crops out their names so he can profit off them.
“I think he genuinely thinks he’s funny. I truly believe that he’s stolen so much work from talented people, that he actually thinks he’s talented by association. It’s delusional and sad. Instead of supporting him, go follow the careers of young comedians. It’s a lot of fun! It’s like following a band before they hit it big. Same thing, but with more dick jokes. Can I say ‘dick’ in Rolling Stone?”
@PinUpTeacher, 30, New York
How to be a grown up at work: Replace “Fuck you” with “Ok, great”
— Pin Up Teacher (@pinupteacher) April 3, 2015
The Fat Jew Joke:
“I felt robbed, violated and angry. I replied to his post [with ‘You motherfucker. Get your own material’]. Got no response. Plagiarism is an outrage regardless of the format or context. Stealing someone’s words and ideas and presenting them as your own is a major violation. When the thief is then paraded around as comic gold and handsomely compensated for what is ultimately other people’s art, it’s even worse. There are so many talented writers and comedians barely making ends meet.
“People work hard to create funny and meaningful content for people’s entertainment and to promote their careers in comedy or as writers. If your kid stole another kid’s art project and said, ‘I made this! Take me out to celebrate!,’ would you proudly put it on the fridge and hand them an ice cream cone or would you encourage your child to create their own work instead of taking credit for someone else’s ideas? Same goes for a colleague taking credit for your project at work. It’s unacceptable.
“He should either publicly apologize, delete his media presence and crawl away or start writing checks to each and every person he stole from.”
Wayne Gladstone, 42, New York
— Gladstone (@WGladstone) January 14, 2013
The Fat Jew Joke:
Anne Hathaway looks like a Miserable Les.
— The Fat Jew (@FATJEW) February 16, 2013
“I wrote an article explaining why the excuses people make to justify plagiarism don’t work. A certain percentage of people he’s stolen from wrongly gave him the benefit of the doubt, because good people, or even mediocre people, have trouble comprehending his level of amoral hackery. Also, because I became increasingly aware of how rampant theft was, I worked two of my best tweets into my novels to stake my claim for posterity.
“I reject the kind of faux maturity which espouses that those calling out theft need to relax, and that such critics are the problem or the ones filled with anger. When you think of someone who trolls the world looking for precious things to steal and call their own, do you think of a calm and content person, or Gollum from Lord of the Rings? Clearly, thieves are the issue and those who steal don’t typically make a habit of taking worthless things.
“[His CAA deal] is inexplicable to me. Why would you expect people incapable of generating their own content to be able to deliver? He needs to realize that sunglasses are not inherently funny, then go far away. Maybe open a soup kitchen.
“I think certain celebrities like Patton Oswalt who use their power and influence to call out bad behavior should be commended, and other unnamed celebs who roll their eyes and say, ‘What’s the big deal? He’ll fail eventually,’ exhibit the kind of apathy that has led to basically every bad outcome in history.”
Matt Besser, Los Angeles
The Fat Jew Joke:
How many potheads does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, we’re trying to keep it mellow in here.
— The Fat Jew (@FATJEW) November 5, 2010
“It only became harmful as soon as his behavior was rewarded with a TV pilot because that means money went to him that could have gone to a real comedian. So there is some comedian out there with an undeveloped idea because Josh Ostrovsky scammed Comedy Central into thinking that he has real talent. Cutting and pasting is not a talent.”
[Editor’s Note: Ostrovsky had signed a development deal for a pilot with Comedy Central earlier this year, but the network told Entertainment Weekly that it now “has nothing planned with Ostrovsky.”]
“Hopefully CAA can help Josh realize every comedian’s dream to one day become a successful model. Maybe there could be a show about a guy who is always rewarded for bad behavior. This guy gives Jews a bad name. And fat a bad name. Josh should join the battle against ISIS and work some of that fat off being a good Jew.
“The joke Josh Ostrovsky stole from me will be in a comedy special that I have coming out this January. So he actually stole something that I am using professionally. But the most annoying thing about this issue is his moniker. Now everybody is telling ‘The Fat Jew’ to fuck off, so now it’s about him being Jewish somehow. It has given this weird anti-semitic undertone to the social media backlash. Backlashers should just use his name. Josh Ostrovsky is a joke thief. Let’s leave overweight Jews out of the discussion.”
Chuuch, 31, Philadelphia
yes hello 911, i just accidentally liked my ex’s vacation pic from 2004
— chuuch (@ch000ch) July 7, 2014
The Fat Jew Joke:
“My initial reaction was, ‘Holy shit, it’s got 200,000 likes, nice!’ But then I was like, ‘Holy shit, it’s got 200,000 likes. That thieving bastard.’ I sent him a tweet requesting that he give me credit for the joke, to which he did not respond.
“Some people who write jokes in their spare time are genuinely interested in pursuing comedy or writing as a career and for some people, Twitter has become a springboard to that end. When a joke thief (or ‘content aggregator,’ to put it in bullshit terms) comes along, stealing jokes, screen-capturing and carefully cropping out the identifying information of the original author from tweets and using these jokes to make a six-figure salary and kickstart his own career, it’s a clear injustice.
“A person has just been handsomely rewarded for their ability to steal from the creativity of others. It’s striking how someone who so blatantly and unapologetically steals from hundreds of other writers could whip up so much success without any question from the people in the organizations that offered him life-changing career deals. It’s worth noting that the little quips he makes in the captions of his stolen jokes are often insensitive, misogynistic and really offensive. Why any talent organization or TV network would want to associate with him is a mystery.
“The best way to remedy the situation is to have him walk from one side of Hollywood to the other, naked, with a woman banging a bell behind him chanting, ‘Shame! Shame! Shame!’ If that’s not a possibility, then I think he just needs to go away until he’s able to come up with his own jokes.”
Davon Magwood, 29, Pittsburgh
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
The Fat Jew Joke:
“This is something I love to do, but it is still a job. Did you enjoy the joke? Yes? Then I did my job, and I’d like to be credited for my work. You would like to be credited at your job, and it’s the same for me. Sure, my job is to make fun of stuff, but in today’s world, you need people that are able to dig into the crap that is our daily lives and try to find something funny in all of this B.S. I love comedy. It’s not a hobby; it’s my craft and my job. I have a child on the way that requires money. I hate that we need money to live, but that’s still a thing.
“This reminds me of the part in the Wizard Of Oz where the curtains are pulled back and all that is left is just some dude. He’s just a dude now, and maybe he’s creative, but now he’ll have a really difficult time proving that to anyone.”
Aram French, 36, San Luis Obispo, CA
The Fat Jew Joke:
“He went from glib to evasive pretty quickly [when I contacted him]. After I sent him several messages on Twitter, he finally replied with, ‘Wasn’t a name on it when I found it, doggy. Someone else cropped it.’ I then asked that he please credit me for my art. His response was that he wanted to work with me and that I should e-mail him, after which he ignored all further attempts to contact him.
“Jokes are my business. My comic, Mandatory Roller Coaster is ‘successful’ in that it isn’t losing money. I sell a handful of books a year and collect a trickle of ad revenue from my website, but that’s it. I live paycheck to paycheck. The harm is that this guy is taking other people’s hard work and using it to make money for himself. Talented people like Davon Magwood and Maura Quint aren’t getting paid $6,000 per Instagram post by Budweiser and Vespa, but Fat Jew is. And we’re the ones whose jokes he’s stealing.
“The whole thing makes me sick to my stomach. In the comedy world, if someone goes onstage and does a set filled with another comic’s material, he gets run out of town. Touring comedians are vicious as hell and they’re organized. The people Ostrovsky is stealing from tend to be independent, geographically spread out — it’s the Internet, after all — and without a big platform to make themselves heard. That’s why it was so heartening to see people like Patton Oswalt, Paul Scheer, Kumail Nanjiani and Michael Ian Black rally around us, the smaller fish, because they are the ones who can make their voices heard.
“All he has to do is apologize to the hundreds of people whose work he’s ripped off and cut every one of us a check.”
An earlier version of the story listed Ostrovsky’s age as 30 based on information he has given in past interviews. Rolling Stone has verified his actual age as 33 and has updated this article accordingly.