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A Very Important Cultural History of People Photocopying Their Butts

The rise, height and inevitable expiration of classic office buffoonery

Having been a Peabody Award–winning journalist and a war correspondent during the Vietnam War, Ron Nessen would become the 13th press secretary of our country, from 1974 to 1977. Also, though he personally denies this, he may be one of the first people in history to photocopy his ass (more on this later).

Unfortunately, we don’t know definitively who the first person to photocopy their posterior was, but it had to have originated one of two ways: It could be that there was a sole genius progenitor who first pressed his bare bum against the glass, and from there, this monumental breakthrough spread from place to place, much like Victor Fleming’s discovery of penicillin. Or it could have originated like the discovery of fire, where no single human can lay claim to it, but instead, was discovered multiple times in different parts of the world.

More than likely it was the latter scenario, since no single name can be decisively linked to this action before 1980, while the first modern commercial copying machine appeared in 1959. The Xerox 914 was a gigantic device weighing 650 pounds — the flatbed scanner on its top would have been more than easy to climb onto, so it’s hard to imagine that no one would sit on it for more than 20 years, just like it’s hard to imagine that those cavemen who discovered fire didn’t soon start lighting their farts.

Some early contenders for that first cheek copy could be the inventor of the photocopy, Chester Carlton, or the guys at Xerox who developed its first commercial counterpart. It may also have been done by the last guy in the office at one of the early businesses that leased copiers, but since the Xerox 914 was an immediate success, leasing over 10,000 units by 1961, it’s impossible to guess where this may have happened first. It’s also possible that an artist experimenting with the new artform of xerography was the first to make an ass copy, as they were copying other body parts like hands and faces very early on.

In fact, Andy Warhol may be able to lay some claim to this history. While he was far from the first artist to experiment with a copier, when he was at the School of Visual Arts supply store in 1969, he asked the store’s owner if he could play around with the copier. Though he was warned that the bulb was hot, Warhol didn’t hesitate to lay his face against the bed, creating a self-portrait that would later be a valuable work of art. It was also during this trip that his companion, fellow artist Brigid Berlin, photocopied her breasts.

The art of xerography would continue on for decades, and in 1992, it would reach what many would consider to be its xenith, with the short film Choreography for Copy Machine, which featured plenty of photocopied body parts, including breasts and dicks.

The single most important name in ass-copying history, though, isn’t Al Bundy, Bart Simpson or even Beavis and Butthead, although all of them would play an important role in its popularity later on. Instead, the first official ass copier on record was a woman named Jodi Stutz, who in 1980 was a secretary at the Deere & Co. farm machinery company in Moline, Illinois. That is, she was a secretary at Deere & Co. until she got fired for photocopying her ass.

The story, which appeared in journalist Bob Greene’s nationally syndicated column on February 28, 1980, goes something like this: Jodi Stutz was a 21-year-old secretary who loved to photocopy her face in the office, but one day, after hours, she recruited another secretary to stand watch while she went into the Xerox room, pulled her pants down and copied her bare butt. For now she’d gotten away with it, but she was so proud of the picture that she began to share it around the office. Before long, word of its existence got to the higher-ups. When she was called to task for it, she lied, but the bosses then interviewed the lookout, who cracked under the pressure, which led to Stutz getting fired.

While it may be hard to believe, this became a big story back in 1980, which led to jokes about her appearing in Johnny Carson’s monologue on The Tonight Show for three nights in a row. Stutz even appeared on an NBC show called Real People, and was invited to be the grand marshal of a parade in Canada. Her story would appear in several magazines: In an interview in the Poughkeepsie Journal on April 20, 1980, she says that Playboy even asked her to appear in a piece, but she turned them down because she said the person who called her was a “creep.”

Though it was very unlikely that Stutz originated this idea, this was the first time the prank became a part of popular culture, so it became a big joke with some decent staying power for a silly human interest story. In fact, in a follow-up story by Greene in the March 26, 1980 edition of The Chicago Tribune, Greene relates a story about — you guessed it — former Press Secretary Ron Nessen. Greene wrote that, amid the hubbub about the Stutz story, he kept hearing a rumor that Nessen had done the same thing years earlier. As he looked deeper into it, Greene found a credible source who claimed Nessen did so in the summer of 1969, in the press room aboard the USS Hornet while it was on a mission to pick up the Apollo 11 astronauts after the first trip to the moon. Greene inquired with Nessen personally, who flatly denied having done this, but the rumor was widespread enough — and his source reliable enough — for him to publish the story.

Sadly, the Stutz story would appear in print once again seven years later, when Stutz became a random victim of gun violence and died at age 29.

Following the initial Stutz incident, the joke began to appear in popular culture a lot, becoming a recurring motif in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. It occurred in the 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities; the 1988 Bill Murray christmas movie Scrooged; and the 1989 Roseanne Barr/Meryl Streep team-up film She-Devil. On TV, it appeared in a 1989 episode of Married… With Children during an office Christmas party.

Unsurprisingly, it wouldn’t be long into the run of The Simpsons for the ultimate prankster, Bart Simpson, to partake in (or at least reference) the classic jape. In the Season Two episode Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish, the opening chalkboard gag reads, “I WILL NOT XEROX MY BUTT.” This would also be referenced again in the 1990 album The Simpsons Sing the Blues. In the song “Look at All Those Idiots,” Mr. Burns raps, “They make personal phone calls on company time. They Xerox their buttockses and guess who pays the dime!”

In addition to a few other appearances on The Simpsons, a genital-copying sketch appeared overseas in a 1992 episode of the U.K. comedy show A Bit of Fry & Laurie; Beavis and Butthead had a whole episode about ass-copying in 1994; it was on the cover of MAD in 1997; in a Will Ferrell SNL sketch in 1998; and a Weird Al song in 1999.

By the time the new millennium rolled around, the joke of people photocopying their asses was so widespread that it had become a real-life public health hazard. In 2002, the U.K. tech site The Register issued a warning saying, “Don’t Photocopy Your Bum This Xmas,” because, they said, the glass could shatter, which is obviously not something you want to happen next to your exposed genitals. Similar pieces would also appear in Gizmodo and other outlets in 2005, when Canon pleaded with customers not to sit on their photocopiers. There’s even a “fact” floating around the internet that says that 23 percent of all copier faults are caused by people photocopying their butts, but this isn’t confirmed by anyone more credible than The Mega Book of Useless Information, so it’s hard to say if it’s actually true.

The hazards of the cheek copy would be brought to their most extreme in a 2012 episode of Spike TV’s 1000 Ways to Die, a show about, uh, every way you could die. In the painfully titled episode Electro-Cutie, a female intern goes to photocopy her rear end, shatters the glass and dies by electrocution. And while this might seem unlikely, there have been electrocution deaths linked to photocopiers, so it certainly is possible that copying your ass could kill you.

In the media of the new millennium, ass-copying slipped from comedy gold to the clichéd move of a boor, as with the classic “Volvo” gag in a 2006 episode of Arrested Development. Strangely enough, this happened in Marvel comics more than once: In 2004, She-Hulk found herself fired in much the same fashion as Jodi Stutz after she copied her green ass on the office copier. In 2005, Fantastic Four’s The Thing did it as a prank. While it would appear as a genuine joke in 2010’s Despicable Me, a year earlier, Britney Spears mocked the old joke in her 2009 music video for Womanizer.

In 2011, an online essay appeared in Defunct: A Literary Repository for the Ages that declared that the joke was no longer relevant, especially in comparison to the universal hilarity of guys getting hit in the nuts. While there’s really no good reason why this should be considered the authoritative take, its author, Gary Scott, did go to the trouble of drawing this visual, so it seemed worthy of including:

In 2017, on the Advanced Systems Inc. copying blog, a piece entitled 11 Simple Ways to Be Kind to Your Copy Machine warned against ass copying, declaring it dangerous, unsanitary and “so 1980s.” Another piece, published last year on Jezebel, declared photocopying your butt as outdated for another reason, namely, the #MeToo movement.

While the Jezebel piece was satirical, it brought up a valid point: In the age of Anthony Weiner and the unsolicited dick pic, is a Xeroxed ass (or dick for that matter) really all that different? For those who experienced them firsthand, absolutely not. “When I first started work at Salomon Brothers, I’d come into work and there’d be Xeroxed copies of male private parts on my desk in the morning,” shared CEO and financial advisor Sallie Krawcheck, when she spoke in 2017 about the difficulties of being a woman on Wall Street in the 1980s.

“It could be considered sexual harassment,” agrees human resources manager Vanessa Wiley. While Wiley does say that it would ultimately depend upon how a judge interpreted an HR law, a Xeroxed ass, dick or balls in the workplace could be construed as creating a hostile work environment, especially if the pictures were left on someone’s desk in particular. “The bottom line is, just don’t do it,” says Wiley.

And with that, it’s time to put a fork in this old gag and just declare it done already. After all, while photocopied asses may have somewhat less malicious origins than airdropped dick pics, it’s tough to argue convincingly in their defense. Plus, it hasn’t really been funny since… well, since The Simpsons was funny, and that’s been a long time.

So, goodbye, ass photocopies. We bid you a semi-fond ass-dieu with this video of a rather large man shattering the glass on a Xerox while trying to copy his ass. It’s the send-off you deserve — no more, no less.