30-year-old Manhattan native Josh Ostrovsky, AKA The Fat Jew, is a thrice-kicked-out-of-college performance artist with 1.3 million followers on Instagram. He’s what your parents might call a meshuggeneh—but a very rich one. The 6-foot-2 humorist, known for his vertical ponytail and absurd public antics, gained mainstream notoriety last summer when a video of him leading a group of homeless people in a Citi Bike ‘Soul Cycle’ class went viral.
Only in America can The Fat Jew be everything that The Fat Jew is: over-indulgent and borderline-psychotic, but with an original, twisted wit that has companies like Virgin Mobile paying him big bucks to sit in a bath of ramen noodles. With an “anti-how-to” book in the works and scripted shows sold to both Comedy Central and Amazon, The Fat Jew is more than just an Instagram sensation—he’s the CEO of an ironic personality cult based on utter insanity.
We met at the DMV on 34th st and 9th ave, where Ostrovsky takes meetings and “gets things done” thanks to the roomy seating and arctic air-conditioning (and also because he can scream on the phone about anything). Post-interview, I got him to do some killer yoga poses outside Penn Station, where we breathed in the glorious fumes of passing buses and a halal cart.
What’s a day in the life of the Fat Jew?
I wake up, sometimes in my bed, sometimes face down in Queens. I don’t know how—sometimes I just end up in Queens. I’m like, where I am? Oh yeah, in fucking Queens. Cause like, how did you get to Queens? I can imagine how I got to Brooklyn, but how did I get to Queens? I basically avoid doing adult shit at all times.
What about when you have to pay your bills? Do you sit down and do that?
No, I have an intern. Chu Chu, my bisexual Filipino intern. He goes to the New School and gets college credit for this. I sign some paper and write him a performance review.
I spend most of the day just thinking of awesome shit to do. Now I have a book deal, so I’m doing that. It used to be that just Virgin Mobile would pay me to fill a Jacuzzi up with ramen and sit in it.
How did it get to the point where Virgin Mobile wanted to pay you to sit in a ramen Jacuzzi?
Because brands are just into crazy shit now, because the kids are into that. There’s so much shit on the Internet; nothing is ever crazy enough. At this point I have a loyal following of runaways, weirdos, and goths.
You’re like their god.
Totally. A brand will say: “You have a big following of gothic Hispanic millenials, which is a demographic we really would love to try to target,” and then they’ll just pay me to do some shit. At this point, they don’t even care; I can pretty much do whatever I want. If I want to fill a hot tub with gazpacho, that’s fine—if I want to rent a Ferrari and throw a cheetah in it for no reason, down—they don’t care.
Does that surprise you?
Yeah, it wasn’t always this way. Even five years ago they didn’t really get it, now they do.
Well, now you’ve built yourself up to the point where people besides freaks know you.
Totally. It’s not all just goth Dominican teens. Now there are moms and dads.
And you must have all the Jewish girls on your shit thinking you’ll be their big Jewish baby daddy.
Yes—I’ve got Rachels and Laurens for miles. I’m the Magellan of Rachels. I also have a lot of Liats and Yaels; got it all.
And now you have a book deal. Cha-ching.
Yeah, so now I’m getting paid to basically write, so I’m trying to develop my methods. I’ll light a bunch of scented candles and sit naked and work on my book.
It’s basically going to be the anti “how-to” book. I’ll tell you what you shouldn’t be doing; you shouldn’t use a Doritos bag as a condom with a rubber band—it’s not going to work to prevent pregnancy. I’m like the fuck-up older brother you wish you had who could have told you what not to do. If you wouldn’t have done it, your life would have been amazing. I’ve professionally made bad decisions; so learn from that.
Did the book people contact you?
A bunch of people reached out and said I should probably be writing some of this shit down. At this point there’s so much ridiculous shit, and the world needs to see this. I’m basically the new James Joyce.
Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to do. He’s like, ‘I’m the new Shakespeare meets Steve Jobs meets Hilary Clinton,’ which is a dope thing to say. Like, what? But me, I’m basically the new Shel Silverstein—who by the way, my mom fucked.
Swear to god. In like, 1970.
What’s the deal with your TV show?
I sold a show to Comedy Central. It’s basically about what you’re asking me about. When you take a piece of social media and the end result is me in a nacho cheese fountain with Tyrese—how did I get there?
And sometimes the process leading up to that is not that hilarious—it’s kind of dark—it has a Louie element to it. Sometimes it’s fucking weird. Basically when you’re of the Internet and you don’t do one thing in particular—like, I’m not solely an actor or a writer—you can kind of do anything. Stella Artois just flew me to Cannes to pour rosé on myself and stand around.
So everyone was just super rich and doing crazy shit?
It was just so ridiculous. These Saudi dudes found me and were just like ‘we want to be around him!’ and inducted me into their entourage. I ended up on a yacht party with them, and they told me to come to the back room. So I assumed it was going to be a room full of gold bullion and missiles, and whatever they do in Saudi Arabia, and there was just a live ostrich, and they said, ‘look at it.’ You couldn’t even touch it; they just wanted people to look at it.
Did you always think you’d be famous for just being you?
Yes, sort of. I felt like it would come around. This is still relatively a new thing. Even 10 years ago, to be famous, you had to be on a reality TV show.
Instagram has really skyrocketed your fame.
Initially I thought Instagram was the wrong medium for me, because it has so many rules. I got kicked off three times, and the last time I protested outside their offices and chained myself up. And then I was like, maybe this isn’t right for me—I can’t put up my crazy photos. But then I realized that toning it down a little bit was opening me up to a more mainstream audience. I just can’t put up photos of birthday candles jammed into somebody’s dick hole, lit. That’s won’t fly, but I can still put up kinda crazy shit. Crazy enough for most people.
When you put up tweets from certain celebrities—are they real?
A lot of the tweets are fake. I had some 16-year-old build a program that generates super-authentic looking tweets. Some of the celebrities who I’ve made fake tweets for have come up to me and said they were ridiculously awesome. Like Snoop. He said, “Yo, I’ve seen some of your fake tweets, and I wish I was tweeting that stuff.” There were a couple he wasn’t feeling, but he was much more up on it than I thought.
Now that I’m writing a book, everything is just for inspiration. I’ll put up on Twitter, “If you’re under 20, and Puerto Rican and want to go boogie boarding today, meet me at the beach.” And 12 kids will show up, and we’ll just chill. And that could be inspiration for a chapter. I also do some serious stuff; I run a soup kitchen in Brooklyn.
Are you serious?
No I’m just kidding. Come on; stop. I mean someone should do that, but not me. Also, my dog has a popular Instagram. I’m running a full-scale business of insanity. A sex toy company in Belgium recently hit me up and asked me to be the face of their company; they said I could have a custom toy. Last year we released 1,000 shirts to homeless guys with my face on it. My mom, in her old Jewish woman accent said, “I think I just saw a homeless man in a shirt with your face on it.”
Were your parents really chill growing up?
No, they were uptight doctors. Then they retired and moved to Santa Fe and got so weird. They’re all leather bracelet, bolo ties, denim, and cowboy boots.
I think they’re swingers. They’ll smoke a quarter of a joint, walk the dog for two hours; they’re very Santa Fe. There’s a lot of Jews there. It’s kind of like pre-Boca. My parents retired when they were 50. You go to Santa Fe to tide you over for 20 years. Ten years ago my dad was wearing sensible Rockports and doctors gadgets.
Do you think that has to do with you being so openly insane?
I think it helps. But he’s fucking Russian, like for real. The idea for him, that what I do can be something someone does for a living—for him it was literally like, ‘I don’t even know what you’re saying, what are you trying to do?’
And then one day—I used to be in a rap group called Team Facelift, and we laid a lot of groundwork for shit that people do now, like Riff Raff and Odd Future, we rapped with transvestites, we were on MTV a whole bunch of times. We did all these spots for The Hills, and after that, a check came to my house. I was out all night at a rave, and he opened the check, and it was a Fed Ex thing for $15,000. And I think at that moment he realized I wasn’t just a psycho.
I’m sort of being taken seriously, and sort of not, and it’s so fucking weird, everyday. And that’s all I ever wanted. I wanted everyday to be different. And every day is massively different—except that bowl of cereal in the morning.
You have to have some daily rituals.
I smoke cigarettes a lot. So that happens everyday. The writing is going to be a bit more foreign. They’re going to give me an advance check, and I’m renting an office building in Detroit. Fifteen stories, completely abandoned, but with all the shit in it—dazzling—for $8,000 a month. I’m going to do it for three months. One floor to write my book, and others to do whatever I want. I’m going to turn it into a factory of fucking insanity. I’m going to have a whole floor of garbage, sand, kiddie pools, nectarines… It’s sort of a twist on people renting a cottage in Montauk to write their book; I’m getting an office building in Detroit, because why the fuck not?
What’s the best thing about being Jewish?
Jewish summer camp. There are basically no Jews who don’t go to camp. I learned every single thing I know at Jew camp. I haven’t learned one thing since the day Jew camp ended. How to unhook a bra with your teeth, how to do a roundhouse, how to jerk off on your top bunk so silently and with so little motion that they guy doesn’t wake up on the bottom. I was so Jew camp scene; I went to Eisner Camp.
And your name was inspired from a counselor at camp, right?
Yes, him and this famous pornographer, NYC legend, Al Goldstein. Him and that dude were my inspiration. They were just fat, loud Jews who gave no fucks. Like ‘most people are gonna hate me, but I’m going to do whatever I want.’
What’s the worst part about being a Jew?
Having a dick that looks like a rock shrimp. Also being an old Jew. If you’re an old Christian dude, you can get old, get a motorcycle, and still do killer shit. But the older you get as a Jew, the more you’re just in bad shape. All you talk about is the humidity and how expensive New York is. You just can’t help yourself. As much as I know that I don’t want to be like that, it’s in the genes. Can’t escape it. My parents are always taking about the weather. So not looking forward to that.
I think being an older Jewish woman is cooler. But I’m not down with the chunky-funky necklace Jewish mom jewelry scene. My mom will wear a chunky necklace that looks like it’s made out of found garbage, and it’s like $8,000 from some Dutch artist. It literally looks like trash. So Santa Fe.
What would be your pre-electric chair meal?
I’d want an oil drum full of chopped liver, and cigarettes. If I could chain smoke and be eating chopped liver—kill me; take me now. If I had one more option, I’d probably have a Chilean seabass in a wasabi reduction with a saffron risotto. And a nice vintage Shiraz with hints of leather, oak, and fruit. I’m super tasteful.
(Images by the author)