The term “couch potato” has nothing to do with the laziness of the potato, which seem to work very hard anyway, but came about from a wise crack.
Cartoonist Robert Armstrong liked to watch television, and his friends knew it. In July 1976, one of Armstrong’s friends, named Tom Iacino, called him on the phone. Armstrong’s girlfriend answered, and Iacino, sensing where Armstrong was since he didn’t answer the phone, asked, “Hey, is the couch potato there?” Armstrong found the phrase so funny that he later published a cartoon of a potato sitting on a couch.
Armstrong and Iacino were members of an intentionally humorous group called the “Boob Tubers” which was created in 1973 to respond to California’s growing health-craze around that time. The main goal of the “Boob Tubers” was to sit around and watch TV while eating junk food. Now the term, couch potato, really gave their group traction. In 1979, they called themselves the Couch Potatoes and put a float in the Doo Dah Parade which parodied the Tournament of Roses Parade. This prompted the first written use of the word which appeared in a 1979 LA Times article covering the event.
Armstrong went on to produce many pieces of merchandise with the phrase and even trademarked it in 1979, but it was already becoming too popular. Despite Armstrong’s efforts to keep it as a legitimate trademarked term, he was unsuccessful, and media outlets began to use it, as did most everyone else, to describe a person who just sits around and watches TV.