The Fat Jew used to go to Temple more often because he was “trying to meet mediocre Jewish girls named like Ali and Lauren,” he tells me while at the Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center in downtown Manhattan, a markedly interesting choice as the venue for his book launch.
But then again, the social media sensation, whose given name is Josh Ostrovsky, is full of interesting choices. From his choice of career (he’s a self-described Z-list celebrity) to his defining hairstyle, and, now, his collection of eclectic essays (Money Pizza Respect), the Instagram/Twitter/Facebook guru has become a defining pop culture icon in his own right.
Here, we chat with Ostrovsky about the origins of his pen name, the extent of his Jewishness, his meeting with the co-founder of Instagram, and much more.
Let’s start with the name. How did you come up with Fat Jew?
FAT JEW: I was just in a crew of guys in high school and we all just had very literal nicknames. There was Stupid Dave, Black Jeff, it was just what you were and then your name.
What do your friends call you? Josh?
FJ: No. My friends call me Jew, which can be really awkward because if I’m walking across the street and you're trying to get my attention [screaming], ‘Jew!,’ people are like, ‘What?’
What’s the extent of your Jewishness? Do you practice the religion?
FJ: I go to synagogue not so much because I’m religious. I used to go more because I was trying to meet mediocre Jewish girls named like Ali and Lauren. It was a good place to connect. My parents are fairly Jewish. They were always pretty conservative Jews, but now they actually moved. They retired and moved to Santa Fe and now they wear denim cowboy boots that are pre-ripped and dreamcatchers and like smoke pot, and they’re super weird and hang out with guys with like silver pony tails.
It sort of makes sense to me that your persona came from that.
FJ: But you know what’s weird? My parents were like super uptight. They both worked in medicine and my dad wore khakis and sensible shoes and was totally not cool. My mom was always like queen of the gays and kind of funky but she was also kind of a bitch, but then they moved out there and started getting so weird [laughs].
What do they think of your career?
FJ: They’re super into it. I don't think they fully, fully understand it. They try to. Now that they’re super namaste, they’re like, ‘Follow your dreams, man. Whatever you want to do.’
My mom was always […] ultra liberal. She was like, ‘You can be whatever you want. You can be a woman, or an astronaut, or a woman astronaut.’ And my dad was like, ‘Get a job.’ So they were kind of not on the same page with how much they thought I could follow my weird, bizarre dreams. But, once my dad figured it out, [he] connected to it—you got to relate to it somehow.
The question on everybody’s mind: How do you get your hair to stay up like that?
FJ: That’s the need to know? It just kind of does [stay up]. I don't know why this happens. The hairection kind of just shoots up.
Do you ever get headaches because of it?
FJ: No. I have like four skills, and this is one of them. So, the world’s most useless gift.
You’re an Instagram sensation. What kind of posts get most likes?
FJ: There’s a formula, but that goes for the Internet in general. Obviously, boobs rule, puppies rule, everybody loves puppies. Cats. Boobs, puppies, cats, Kanye [West]. If you could create the ultimate photoshop photo of just Kanye West with a beautiful set of breasts holding a basket of puppies and a basket of kittens, it would get a billion likes.
Do you care about how many likes you get on a picture?
FJ: No, not so much. I want people to know that people like my stuff. […] I try to make it for me, like stuff that I think is funny or something.
I was thinking…. Does your Instagram look like mine or do the most followed people have a different interface?
FJ: I actually met Kevin [Systrom], the guy that [co-founded] Instagram. I met him at an event and I said, ‘Hey man, I really like your app.’ And he said, ‘We really like you.’ And then we had this weird eye contact and then I kind of thought he was going to give me some weird Illuminati Instagram handshake, but he was like, ‘Later,’ and went to get a mini quiche or something. But no, there’s no secret entrance.
So, my Instagram is your Instagram.
FJ: That’s what I’m saying. What’s up with that? Where are the perks?
Who do you follow on Instagram?
FJ: I’d say my favorite people to follow are rappers, because they’re just so ridiculous, [and] the TSA. They have a great Instagram.
FJ: Amazing, yeah. The stuff they confiscate is insane.
There has been a lot of talk, allegations, and complaints about you stealing material before you post it. What do you make of that? Is it even a problem in a world where most stuff gets re-posted countless times?
FJ: I definitely care because I care about the Internet. The Internet is like the Wild West but, once in a while, we have to set rules on a certain issue and there’s two schools of thought on this. There are 40-year-old comedy writers who are like, ‘No, this is not how it’s done.’ Then there are 17-year-old Millennials who are like, ‘Everything is shareable. Don’t put it on the Internet if you don't want it because we’re in a giant messy hot tub of germs. You [have] got to let it go.’
I live by that ethos, I put my stuff out there all the time without watermarking and I never ask for credit. But there was a whole other side of it and I wanted them to be heard and, instead of feeling like I got thrust in the middle of it, I like to feel like there was somewhat of a dialogue between the two sides.
And it seemed like there was.
FJ: Yeah. I think everybody kind of came to an understanding and, if I'm the biggest and the most eyes are on me and I can set the tone and other people are going to do it and everyone will be happy… then let’s do it. I mean, it definitely got exciting for a minute. I got chased by like TMZ, I felt like Leo [DiCaprio]. But, at the end of the day, it sucked and we went back and fixed it and everybody now feels pretty good. It’s an evolving thing.
Now you fully credit everyone.
FJ: You have got to go really deep to find out where a photo came from. So now we go really, really, really deep.
Switching gears. Are you into politics?
FJ: No. This is a thing that people are asking me now…
I was going to ask you who you’re voting for in 2016.
FJ: I’ll vote for Hillary Clinton. You know why? Because I like a boss lady, I’m super into boss ladies because women are smarter than men. Women are smarter than men, so I’m really down for that.