This week, the vast and intricate Venn diagram that includes comedy websites and Jewish websites, and comedy websites written by Jews, and Jewish websites written by comedians, lit up like a Stage IV tumor on a CAT scan. The news: Josh Ostrovsky, the self-proclaimed “Fat Jew” who recently became the latest comedian/entrepreneur to begin turning a single Instagram account into comedy gold—a pilot for Comedy Central, a book deal with Hachette, across the board representation with CAA— is now latest Icarus brought down by the unmerciful sun of Internet scrutiny.
Ostrovsky, as it turns out, is a serial plagiarist, routinely posting jokes, tweets, and images made by other writers and performers as his own, and failing to attribute them to their sources, or simply cropping out the Twitter avatars of the original posters.
— Patrick Walsh (@thepatrickwalsh) June 8, 2014
As a result of his joke fraud many times over, Comedy Central, reasonably deducing that such a person may find it challenging to come up with several weeks worth of comedic material for a potential television show (at least, without garnering hundreds of crippling intellectual property lawsuits), cancelled their pilot order. Other cancellations of ordered material are almost certainly sure to follow: You can’t build a comedy empire on a foundation of lies, it seems.
This story—and in fact, Ostrovsky’s entire oeuvre (such as it is)— annoys me on several levels. First of all, there’s his irritating insistence on using the words “Jew” and “Jewish” in his online identity, as well has his eccentric hairstyle, which can only be described as a “Hasidic Meep the Geek,” compelling every nominally Jewish arts and culture writer in the country (including, naturally, yours truly) to comment on his disgrace and opine on precisely how it is reflects on Jews in general, when in fact, the answer is “not at all.”
Then there’s the fact that Ostrovsky’s joke thievery was well-known to the comedy community at large (don’t forget, all those people whose material he stole have Twitter accounts of their own), yet it somehow took a mysterious critical mass of allegations from the right places—a sort of secretive Internet tipping point, if you will—for the powers that be to actually pay attention. You’d think the executives at Viacom and Hachette would have applied just a smidge of due diligence before throwing money at the guy—money that thanks to all those CAA representatives squeezing the last few drops of milk from the rapidly dying cow, are going to have a hell of a time getting back. Have we learned nothing from Bill Cosby, people?
But for me, the most frustrating thing about the Fat Jew controversy is that it’s happening at all. Ten (okay, fifteen) years ago, Josh Ostrovsky would have just been another comedy geek obsessing over old SNL tapes with his buddies in a basement somewhere. He wouldn’t have had a platform powerful enough to attract the misguided interests of the industry. He would have just been what he is, which is a fan. But the social media revolution, with its endless masturbatory and addictive cycles of “likes” and favorites has all but erased any visible boundary between content creators and content appreciators. Get enough retweets of something you retweeted and it’s easy to forget you didn’t come up with it in the first place, that there’s a huge difference between, say, cracking up your friends with Monty Python quotes and actually being Michael Palin.
Josh Ostrovsky clearly has a sense of humor and a clear appreciation for comedy. He’s just not a comedian. It’s more than time that we started acknowledging the difference.
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