The Fat Jew, Equal Opportunity Offender
Forget all you know about big, brash and outrageous. This is Josh Ostrovsky, the social media sensation whose desire to offend knows no boundary. And there’s no off switch either.
Photography by Darren Keith - Styling and Words by Mary Fellowes
Did you have one of those brilliantly troubled, rebellious friends in high school? The irresistible rabble-rouser with a sky-high IQ who did what civilians wouldn’t dare? Josh Ostrovsky, aka The Fat Jew, who has an audience of 9 million on Instagram alone, is that guy. If you aren’t familiar, he is a 34-year-old, 6ft-tall, rotund, shameless Manhattan man-child with sculptural “hair-ections” who lies in a bath of ramen noodles snorting the flavour powder with his intern, drives around New York in a convertible with a llama, teaches spinning classes to the homeless on Citi Bikes and poses half-nude at Halloween for the Daily Mail with a peroxide wig, nappy and dummy as the Kardashians’ latest (unborn) baby. And reputedly gets paid five-figure amounts per branded social-media post to pull said stunts off.
“If the Wu-Tang Clan gangbanged Bette Midler, that baby would be me.”
His found content-based memes and video clips are a cocktail of what shouldn’t work: low-grade imagery depicting mundane people, animals and celebrities in random antics, with slang captioning so perfectly profane it is a miracle he hasn’t been on the wrong end of law enforcement, although its representatives are apparently among his ardent fans: “There are definitely some Kardashians following me. Brooke Shields, which is tight. Obviously, my shaman, Stanley Tucci, and soooo many cops!” Lest his output sounds purely puerile or banal, underpinning it is razor-sharp social observation and a mirror to our politically (in)correct selves that is so uncomfortable yet so honest and on point, and so blazingly funny and absurd, his social-media feed is moreish roadkill.
Asked to sum himself up in one sentence, he tells me, “If the Wu-Tang Clan gangbanged Bette Midler, that baby would be me.” Funny but true. He is an unlikely, beguiling combination of classic Woody Allen/Seinfeld-esque heart-on-sleeve Jewish neurosis and hoodlum rebellion made manifest with rapid-fire rapper backchat. His outspokenness allows us to project or explore our most politically incorrect inner thoughts; his relatable faux-anxiety resonates with our own insecurities and fears. For the record, he is charming in person: disarmingly articulate, passionate and unabashedly friendly – vulnerable even, but not fragile, and stream-of-consciousness open. He’s not angry or “on the spectrum”, which is what I had assumed and confessed as much to him. “Ha! Yeah, I love it when the first thing people say when we meet is, ‘I gotta tell you… you’re not retarded!’”
“I’m a satirist. I’m a commentator. I’m a performance artist. I’m an idiot.”
Apart from social media superstar, what exactly is he? In an interview with Vulture.com, he argued, “I’m a satirist. I’m a commentator. I’m a performance artist. I’m an idiot.” His main goal, he tells me, is “to offend nerds and white people on the internet, who are offended by basically everything”. To this end, he is the natural successor to that other great American cultural outlaw JD Salinger, and his avatar Holden Caulfield, protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye. The controversial 1950s novel, banned in many schools and several countries for profane language and explicit material, examines the hero’s loss of childhood innocence after being expelled from multiple schools and wandering around New York exploring prostitution, perversion and immorality. Its subsequent popularity was coined as Catcher Cult in the media and the book was described by one critic as the one “all brooding adolescents had to buy, the indispensable manual from which cool styles of disaffection could be borrowed”. If that isn’t an antecedent to Ostrovsky, nothing is.
As well as shock, Ostrovsky delights in continuing to surprise and outwit pigeon-holers, by “doing stuff that confuses the shit out of people”. For added exposure or likely just self-amusement and research, he joined the special talent roster of One Management (Helena Christensen, Nicki Minaj, A$AP Rocky, Poppy Delevingne and Courtney Love). To poke fun at entitled Hamptons revellers, in 2015 he started a pink wine brand called White Girl Rosé, now a liquor-store mainstay, adding to it last holiday season with a white wine named Family Time Is Hard. “I’m not a comedian. I make rosé and, like, do plus-size modelling. I’m trying to be in dog shows… Like, I’m trying to pop up in really weird spaces.”
“I don’t even really know where the joke is at this point, it’s become my actual life”
What if he had been operating before the internet? He takes a long, reflective pause. “A cult… real linen robes… luring runaways or people in emotional turmoil. Or cool crime.” Or writing porn, which, he laments, has all been done. “If you thought of women who ride around on giant tarantulas and fuck dudes in outer space, look it up – I swear it already exists”. I suggest he is the natural successor to Voltaire and Regency-era provocateurs who spread salacious gossip via what was surely the early analogue social media: 18th-century pamphlets. He says it’s the biggest compliment anyone has ever given him.
Ostrovsky’s trajectory hasn’t been plain sailing, though. Much has been made in the media in recent years of the theft of jokes he posted as his own while on his ascent to fame. Once exposed, comedians and naysayers came out in their droves and a contract with Comedy Central was dropped. His defence at the time was that the internet was effectively the wild west, with no precedent for joke ownership, adding fuel to the fire. Nonetheless, he apologised, corrected wrongdoing by crediting all sources and has continued to soar.
A unique voice plus genius humour plus ability to tap into the zeitgeist plus relentless determination equals prevailing success. Much mockery has also been made of his absurdity in general, which he is the first to embrace. “I don’t even really know where the joke is at this point, it’s become my actual life,” he says. But to be as prolific, lucrative and as followed as he is takes more than slapstick or accident. That starts with himself, which is the key to getting behind the phenomenon he is. “I just aim to continue to offend, but my offensiveness is equal opportunity. I talk about my small, rock shrimp-shaped penis! I make fun of myself first and then you next.”
This interview is an extract taken from the first issue of THE FALL, on sale now.