One of the running jokes in Mike Judge’s Office Space, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary (how great was 1999?), is that David Herman’s character shares a name with pop rock singer Michael Bolton. The character loathes his more famous namesake, calling him an ‘ass clown’. It’s a hilarious thing to call someone and the story of how Office Space coined the term is actually pretty funny. As stars Ajay Naidu and David Herman tell it:
Ajay Naidu: Herman came up with ‘ass clown,’ which is now in the dictionary.
David Herman: The original line was ‘no-singing asshole,’ and we had to change that line on the set a moment before ‘action’ because it implied that he didn’t do his own singing, that he was Milli Vanilli. And so it became ‘no-talent ass clown.’ He’s not my cup of tea, but he’s got plenty of talent.
Although much of Office Space’s hilarity came from the pages of Mike Judge’s script, there was some improvisation as well and the ‘ass clown’ instance was one where that improvisation became necessary. The line as originally written, when Samir (Ajay Naidu) and Michael (David Herman) are discussing the latter’s name, was that the singer Michael Bolton was a ‘no-singing asshole.’
That line could have been interpreted as implying that Michael Bolton didn’t actually sing his songs. For a man famous for singing, that would be quite the accusation. So rather than open the film up to claims of defamation or libel, the line needed to be changed. David Herman had to improvise on the fly right on set right before action was called for the scene, as he told The Ringer.
Necessity is the mother of invention and not being a devout Michael Bolton fan, David Herman was able to come up with something and thus ‘ass clown’ was born. You can check out the scene as it appears in Office Space in the video below:
Despite the taboo nature of the original line and its potential legal implications, ‘no-singing asshole’ is nowhere near as funny as ‘no-talent ass clown.’ Ass clown is way more original and silly and perfect for a singer who, at the time, seemed to take himself very seriously. For the record, Michael Bolton the singer has a great sense of humor about it now.
The term ass clown is now part of the lexicon and a hilarious insult whenever you hear it. Actor Ajay Naidu, who played Samir Nagheenanajar in Office Space, even got to use David Herman’s Michael Bolton insult when he was in Bad Santa. Check it out:
What a cinematic legacy! This is just an example of the strange alchemy that ultimately resulted in Office Space becoming the cult classic it is today. Mike Judge’s film may have only made $10.8 million at the box office, but it’s impact and cultural penetration is far more than that meager sum would indicate.
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