Josh Ostrovsky, Plagiarist: His Lies to Katie Couric and His Serial Instagram Thefts

“You gotta understand. The Internet is like a giant, weird orgy where like everything gets shared. A lot of people are using stuff that I make. And every time that I make a photo and I put it out there, it gets reblogged on a million sites, and I would never put my name on it. ‘Cause we’re like all in this giant — it’s kind of like we’re all on ecstasy at a giant rave.” — Josh Ostrovsky, after being asked by Katie Couric about his plagiarism

Josh Ostrovsky is an unremarkable man who has built up a remarkable fan base of 5.7 million Instagram users by stealing photos from other sources without attribution under the handle The Fat Jew, claiming the witticisms as his own, and turning these casual and often quite indolent thefts into a lucrative comedy career. His serial plagiarism, which makes Carlos Mencia look like an easily ignored bumbling purse snatcher, has understandably attracted the ire of many comedians, including Patton Oswalt, Kumail Nanjiani, and Michael Ian Black. The ample-gutted Ostrovsky transformed his gutless thieving into a deal with Comedy Central (since cancelled by the comedy network), CAA representation, and even a book deal. Ostrovsky is an unimaginative and talentless man who believed he could get away with this. And why not? The unquestioning press fawned over the Fat Jew at every opportunity, propping this false god up based on his numbers rather than his content. While the tide has turned against Ostrovsky in recent days, the real question that any self-respecting comedy fan needs to ask is whether they can stomach supporting a big fat thief who won’t cut down on his rapacious stealing anytime soon.

Ostrovosky’s lifting has already received several helpful examinations, including this collection from Kevin Kelly on Storify and an assemblage from Death and Taxes‘s Maura Quint. But in understanding how a figure like Ostrovsky infiltrates the entertainment world, it’s important to understand that, much like serial plagiarists Jonah Lehrer and Q.R. Markham, Ostrovsky could not refrain from his pathological need for attention.

After a two day investigation, Reluctant Habits has learned that every single Instagram post that Ostrovosky has ever put up appears to have been stolen from other people. His work, his lies, and his claims were not checked out by ostensible journalists, much less corporations like Burger King hiring this man to participate in commercials and product placement that he was compensated for by as much as $2,500 a pop.

In an interview with Katie Couric earlier this year, Ostrovsky offered some outright whoppers. Ostrovsky, who claimed to be “such a giver,” presented himself as a benign funnyman who said that “it’s just my gift” to find photos and apply captions to them. Tellingly, Ostrovsky declared, “It’s the only thing I can do in this world.”

“A lot of stuff I actually make myself,” said Ostrovsky. “Like sometimes if you see a tweet from like DMX, you know, or some kind of hardcore rapper being like, ‘About to go antiquing upstate,’ like ‘I’m refinishing Dutch furniture,’ like he probably didn’t write that. I Photoshopped that.”

Actually, the sentiment that Ostrovsky ascribed to DMX (assuming he didn’t pluck the image from another source) on April 14, 2015 (“YEAH SEX IS COOL BUT HAVE YOU EVER HAD GARLIC BREAD”) had actually been circulating on the Internet years before this. It started making the rounds on Twitter in November 2013 and appears to have been plucked from a now deleted Tumblr called whoredidthepartygo. This tagline theft is indicative of Ostrovsky’s style: take a sentence that many others have widely tweeted, reapply it in a new context, and hope that nobody notices.

The Couric interview also contained this astonishing prevarication:

Couric: I like Hillbilly too. You took half-Hillary, half-Bill Clinton.

Ostrovsky: Yup. A friend of mine actually made that and like just really exploded my brain into like a thousand pieces.

If this is really true, then why did Ostrovsky wait four years to share his “friend”‘s labor? Especially since it had “exploded his brain into like a thousand pieces.” After all, doesn’t a giver like Ostrovsky want to act swiftly upon his “generosity”? The Hillbilly pic was posted to Ostrovsky’s Instagram account on January 7, 2015.


But this image was cropped from another image that was circulating around 2011 — nearly four years before. If Ostrovsky’s “friend” gave the Hillbilly photo to him, then why was it cropped, with the telltale link to (a now defunct link) elided?


* * *

Reluctant Habits has examined Ostrovsky’s ten most recent Instagram posts. Not only are all of his images stolen from other people, but Ostrovsky often did not bother to change the original image he grabbed. In some cases, it appears that Ostrovsky simply took a screenshot from Twitter, often cropping out the identifying details.

For the purposes of this search, I have confined my analysis to any photo that Ostrovsky uploaded with a tagline. As the evidence will soon demonstrate, not only is Ostrovsky incapable of writing an original tag, but he appears to have never written a single original sentence in any of his Instagram captions.

I have included links to Ostrovsky’s Instagrams and the original tweets. But I have also taken screenshots in the event that either Ostrovsky or his originators remove their tweets.

OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 1: August 16, 2015.



As if to exonerate himself from the theft, Ostrovsky’s Instagram post included a callback to Instagram user @pistolschurman, who posted it onto Instagram that same day. One begins to see Ostovsky’s pattern of behavior: bottom-feed from a bottom-feeder.

But the image had already been widely distributed on Twitter with the tagline, “The international symbol for ‘what the hell is this guy doing?’,” “The international symbol for ‘what the hell is this douchebag doing?,” and “The international symbol for what the fuck is this nigga doing?'” But have traced its first use on Twitter to Betto Biscaia on August 10, 2014:


OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 2: August 16, 2015.



On August 16, 2015, the user @tank.sinatra posted this to Instagram, failing to acknowledge the original source. Ostrovsky linked to @tank.sinatra.

This was first tweeted by user @GetTheFuzzOut on August 14, 2015.


OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 3: August 14, 2015


SOURCES OF PLAGIARISM: While it appears that Ostrovsky or one of his minions may have typed the sentiment upon a new image, a Google Image Search shows that this sentence has been widely attached to photo memes. The first use of the joke on Twitter appears to originate from @TinyCodeEye on March 11, 2015.


OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 4: August 14, 2015


SOURCES OF PLAGIARISM: This has been a long-running tagline/photo combo, but Ostrovsky didn’t even bother to swap the font for this photo. The tagline appears to have been added to the photo for the first time by user @ViralStation on July 17, 2015:


In other words, Ostrovsky was so slothful in his theft that he couldn’t even be bothered to generate a new image.

As for the tagline context itself, I have traced its first use on Twitter to hip-hop artist EM3 on July 14, 2015:


I have reached out to EM3 on Twitter, asking if he was the first person to take this photo. He responded that he did not take the photo, but that he plucked it from eBay. (The latter response may have been facetious.) What EM3 may not know is that his quip was stolen by Ostrovsky and monetized for Ostrovsky’s gain.

OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 5: August 14, 2015


SOURCES OF PLAGIARISM: The joke was first tweeted by Andrew Grant on July 24, 2015.


But Grant, in turn, stole the joke from a Reddit thread initiated by user youstinkbitch on July 10, 2015.

OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 6: August 14, 2015


SOURCES OF PLAGIARISM: The photo/tag combo appears to originate with user @FUCKJERRY, who tweeted this on July 2, 2015.


OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 7: August 14, 2015


SOURCES OF PLAGIARISM: This was among the oldest tags I discovered and quite indicative of the desperate thieving that Ostrovsky practices. It appears to originate from Alex Moran, who tweeted it on July 17, 2014.


I have reached out to Mr. Moran to ask him if he was the person who snapped the photo. He has not responded.

OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 8: August 13, 2015


SOURCE OF PLAGIARISM: This was first tweeted by user @natrosity on November 5, 2014.


OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 9: August 13, 2015


SOURCE OF PLAGIARISM: This joke has become so widely circulated that only the world’s worst hack would use it. Ostrovsky thinks so little of his audience that he’s circulating a joke that’s been around since at least August 2012, when it first started appearing Tumblr. The first Twitter link to this is from August 2, 2012:


OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 10: August 13, 2015


SOURCE OF PLAGIARISM: The source of this appears to come from a now-defunct Tumblr called Luxury-andFashion. The earliest mention on Twitter appears to be on November 12, 2014 — a link to its Tumblr distribution.


Review: Pleasure at Her Majesty’s (1976) and The Secret Policeman’s Ball (1979)


You know that cultural journalism is in a sorry state when only four people show up for a screening, and not a single dead soul (save for myself, still chortling with pulse) has the courage to laugh at legendary comedy material or get excited by consummate performers tinkering with sketches like tetchy scientists.

I was in a darkened theater for a film called Pleasure at Her Majesty’s, part of The Secret Policeman’s Film Festival, which kicks off this Friday at the Lincoln Center. The Festival even includes, for those cineastes saddled with an equine constitution, a full screening of the 660 minute film, A Conspiracy of Hope — essentially Amnesty International’s 1986 answer to Live Aid, but probably not up there with The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. Despite the hopeful title, you won’t find Freddie Mercury wowing at Wembley. This screening seems to be a wild gamble on the Film Society’s part. For who out there in New York is really interested in 23-year-old footage of Jackson Browne and Bryan Adams? (Then again.)

The common assumption is that, if an esteemed film society is holding something called The Secret Policeman’s Film Festival, you should probably check out the main film. But I’m here to tell you that you can probably skip the primary offering. The true can’t-miss movie here is Pleasure at Her Majesty’s, which features some fascinating behind-the-scenes footage of, among many geniuses, the Monty Python troupe (sans Eric Idle) rethinking the Courtroom Sketch. We see the Python team trying to pinpoint why the sketch doesn’t entirely work. They make changes. They argue. And even after they have performed the sketch later in the film and have received laughs, John Cleese walks off-stage and remains unconvinced that it worked with the audience.

This is fascinating if you’re interested in dramatic rhythm. And it isn’t just Python here. Deep division among the Beyond the Fringe performers is intimated in a conversation with Alan Bennett and Terry Jones, both seemingly unaware of the camera. “I could never do anything you do,” says a wan-faced Bennett. “The atmosphere with you is different. You don’t seem competitive in the way we were.” And we begin to wonder if Beyond the Fringe’s anti-authoritarian comedy was motivated by internal strife. At what social cost does one break new ground?

The Secret Policeman’s Ball, which doesn’t permit us these interesting peeks behind the curtain and features more music in the place of many comedy sketches, remains an enjoyable if badly dated film. The Amnesty organizers began changing the formula. And the contrast can be seen in the choices. Pleasure has Neil Innes’s delightful “Protest Song.” Policeman gives us Tom Robinson’s “Glad to Be Gay”: brave at the time, but precisely the kind of sanctimonious fury that Innes was satirizing.

In Policeman, Peter Cooks’s sendup of the Jeremy Thrope 1979 trial is funny, but only if you know all the scandalous details. It is indeed ironic that the very sketch Cook wrote in response to criticisms that the Amnesty shows contained nothing more than regurgitated material has secured its own time capsule. And the less said about Billy Connolly, the better.

On the other hand, one of Policeman‘s highlights is a wild and wonderful performance from a pre-Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy. McCoy hammers a four inch nail into his nose and attempts to dodge a toy train approaching his testicles with a fork while he remains chained to a chair. The late David Rappaport is even involved. McCoy’s antics, which involve jumping atop audience heads while wearing a kilt, are almost unthinkable today. McCoy — and Rowan Atkinson, who appears in an early version of his Schoolmaster sketch — presents the kind of free-wheeling comic anarchy no longer welcomed in our sanitized corporate atmosphere, where uncourageous Establishment types like John Hodgman stand before an audience, tell them the “clever” niceties they like to hear, and fail to challenge their assumptions. (Stephen Colbert, on the other hand, had stones.)

But Policeman stands in the shadow of Pleasure. Unlike Policeman, which features “slight direction by John Cleese,” Pleasure really permits us to see just how brilliant Cleese is on stage. A filmed version of a stage show limits itself by necessity to subjective camera angles, but the sheer authoritative energy that Cleese brings to the Dead Parrot sketch (with the line “This is your nine o’clock alarm call” added when he beats the parrot) is a marvel to behold.

Pleasure‘s vérité format permits us to witness a strange old boy’s world where John Cleese is seen with a McDonald’s cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and everybody is fiercely competitive. There’s one moment in which Jonathan Miller and Barry Humphries puff nervously on their smokes and bitch about who’s the oldest. Small wonder that it took a high-energy legend like Miller to corral these guys together.

But the lack of women in both films, aside from Eleanor Bron and Carol Cleveland, is unsettling. A few decades (and a few more Policeman films) later, women are now finally permitted to be funny, even when Christopher Hitchens declares that they aren’t. It’s just too bad that comedy remains shoehorned by the cobblers who wish to keep talent running inside the track. The Policeman films document a bygone era in which you could get crazy for a good cause. Perhaps it’s still possible today, if some innovator with deep pockets conjures up some charitable comedy that’s feral and progressive and inclusive.

The Great George Carlin is Dead

No words. The man was a genius, a major inspiration for me, a cunning linguist and iconoclast, and he will be sorely missed.

There isn’t a single YouTube clip that sums the man up. So start here:

George Carlin: On Location at USC (1977): (Part One) (Part Two) (Part Three) (Part Four) (Part Five) (Part Six) (Part Seven) (Part Eight)

Carlin at Carnegie (1982): (Part One) (Part Two) (Part Three) (Part Four) (Part Five) (Part Six)

Carlin on Campus (1984): (Part One) (Part Two) (Part Three) (Part Four) (Part Five) (Part Six)

What Am I Doing in New Jersey? (1988): (Part One) (Part Two) (Part Three) (Part Four) (Part Five) (Part Six)

Who is David Carr to Set the Limits of Comedy?

Maud points to this New York Times item on Gawker. David Carr criticizes blogs (and specifically Gawker) for being “remarkably puerile to make jokes…[when Fairchild Publication] has posted guards in the company’s office because [Peter Braunstein] is suspected of drawing a target on people working there.” Gawker editor Jessica Coen may revel in bad taste (certainly Coen’s ridiculous identification of Laila as a “Muslim-by-way-of-Portland blogger” has been deservedly taken to task by several parties). But who is to suggest that Gawker, as tasteless as it might read at times, should be criticized solely because Carr finds it offensive? Is it possible, perhaps, that in finding gallows humor in the verboeten (even through Gawker’s decidedly tawdry timbre), Coen may very well be discovering another mode to express “the vocabulary for genuine human misfortune?” Or maybe she’s alerting six million readers that yes, Virginia, contrary to the safe ‘n’ sane overlords who hold the keys to the castle where none are offended, tea is served at noon and the happy little elves dance a harmless waltz, you can indeed find a guffaw in the forbidden.

I haven’t been all that much of a Gawker fan since the halcyon days of Spiers and Sicha. But it’s truly unsurprising that we have another telltale sign here from an outlet which, on a daily basis, fails to stand by its dubious credo “all the news that’s fit to print” because they fear offending subscribers. One indeed that has suffered credibility problems of its own and that would publicly denounce anyone daring to push beyond the threshold into issues unseen and unexamined. First off, there’s the possibility that the image-obsessed world of the Condé Nasties or the sordid and duplicitous subculture of gossip journalism may have had a hand in pushing this sociopathic personality over the edge. Further, why was such a man employed, even after he exhibited stalking tendencies? Surely, any company who regularly sends reporters into the field would not want to face a costly harassment lawsuit from one of its employees.

That’s interesting from a human behavior standpoint and, as far as I’m concerned, ripe for comedy. Or as Mel Brooks once put it, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.”

Coen’s tossed off posts may be unfunny, but only because they are poorly phrased or lack a specific association. This is not to suggest the topic of rape, as hideous and as awful as the subject matter is, is entirely devoid of comic value. Mostly unfunny, sure. But did we learn nothing from Lina Wurtmuller’s ingenious cinematic satires of the 1970s or, more recently, Catherine Breillat’s films or Pedro Almodovar’s Kika, which have employed rape sequences to make audaciously satirical statements about how women are regularly subjected and humiliated? The Lenny Bruces, the Richard Pryors, the Lina Wurtmullers, the Onions and the Terry Southerns of our world all understood that comedy designed for audiences who are easily offended by studs which mismatch a country squire’s cufflinks is never revolutionary and, for the most part, quite dull.

One of the reasons blogs have thrived is because they combat stiffs like Carr, columnists who exist on the Gray Lady’s payroll solely to bang out 1,000 words pointing out the bleeding obvious. Blogs dare to employ tones and write about taboo subjects that elude a profit-driven newspaper. They eschew the American newspaper’s prudish tone and have no full-page advertisers to answer to. In the best of cases, they combine wit, irreverence and an original idea. Perhaps the six million people are drawn to Gawker because they want to see what Coen will come up with next. Or perhaps they wish to take a trip down a dark road to discover the sordid alleys that mainstream outlets fear to tread.

Sure, it may be “more adult” to look the other way, avoiding some of the more deranged realities of our world, whether through disgust or willful ignorance. But such an approach also means siding with the newspaper-reading Babbitts of the world, those who would remain unchallenged and trapped within the obligations of crippling mortgages they must meet, children they must raise, and bosses they dare not cross. Humorless miens indeed.

RIP Mitch Hedberg

Goddam, Mitch Hedberg has passed on. He was only 37. Here are some Hedbergisms in his honor:

“The thing about tennis is: no matter how much I play, I’ll never be as good as a wall. I played a wall once. They’re fucking relentless.”hedberg.jpg

“If carrots got you drunk, rabbits would be fucked up.”

“An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You would never see an ‘Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order’ sign, just ‘Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.'”

“This product that was on TV was available for four easy payments of $19.95. I would like a product that was available for three easy payments and one complicated payment. We can’t tell you which payment it is, but one of these payments is going to hard. ”

“I saw a human pyramid once. It was totally unnecessary.”

“I don’t own a cell phone or a pager. I just hang around everyone I know, all the time. If someone needs to get ahold of me they just say, ‘Mitch,’ and I say, ‘What?’ and turn my head slightly…”

“I had a velco wallet in a casino. That sound annoyed the hell out of me. Whenever I lost money, and I opened the wallet, it was like the sound of my addiction.”

“I got my hair highlighted, because I felt some strands were more important than others.”

“Mr. Pibb is a poor imitation of Dr. Pepper. Dude didn’t even get his degree.”

Entertainment, Not Literature

Two Blowhards has a very interesting post up about the differences between book people and movie people. The book world’s inability to appreciate or understand the craftsmanship of writing a popular novel is what continues to keep John P. Marquand’s name (for one) from being celebrated as a great writer. As I’ve said more than once, Marquand, winner of the Pulitzer in 1937, is , for the most part, out-of-print today. His books, which offered a grand mix of satire and entertainment, were extremely popular during his time and still hold up well today in their careful observations of middle-class life.

But because Marquand could not find universal acceptance among critics who were quick to condemn him because he was a solid storyteller, because he dared to put his name on the popular Mr. Moto books rather than hide behind a Starkian non de plume, if you find his paperbacks at all, you’ll find them housed within trashy covers that make Marquand come off as a sensationalist (“One woman’s climb to the top!”), which undervalue his abilities as a stylist or a satirist. Or you’ll find the covers for the later books, which desperately try to plug Marquand as the greatest American novelist since Sinclair Lewis. And who wants to fall prey to that kind of marketing? For later generations who know nothing of Marquand, this paperback cover Lamarckism has pretty much killed Marquand’s shot at surviving the fray or being remembered. It was only the Pulitzer and the resultant curiosity about The Late George Apley‘s narrative structure that drew me to the book and allowed me to discover him. Otherwise, I might never have heard of the guy. And yet how often are we attracted to a ribald movie poster or a DVD cover that isn’t too far removed from Harlequin romances?

How many of us are willing to enjoy a well-made monster movie like The Thing from Another World or even a not-so-well-made monster movie like The Blob? We have no problem intellectualizing Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines or even the three Matrices, which are, let’s face it, enjoyable crap. But confess that you like even a handful of Stephen Kings (full confession: I like King) or that you liked Elmore Leonard’s novels more than Salman Rushdie’s post-Satanic Verses work to a roomful of literary snobs and you’ll either be led to the door or dismissed as a hopeless case. John Updike declared Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full as “entertainment, not literature.” But as far as I’m concerned, A Man in Full or Bonfire of the Vanities are gripping reads laced with honed prose and careful observations. I would kill to have had the skills to write either of these. But I have known intelligent people to put these labels aside and enjoy half-baked crap like Zoolander or the last two Austin Powers movies.

Where Howard Hawks can be extolled beyond measure as a consummate artist of grand entertainment, years after Rio Bravo was panned on its release, by the same measure, Marquand still falls by the wayside in the book world. While the auteur theory can be applied across the board to an artist like Stanley Kubrick and an entertainment-oriented director like Michael Curtiz, in the medium guided more explicitly by “one voice,” the auteur is doomed upon even a casual embrace of the page-turner.