“Put down your clever, and pick up your ordinary” is how David Robinson describes the improv principle, Be Obvious. Keith Johnstone describes it like this in his book Impro.
“The improviser has to realize that the more obvious he is, the more original he appears. I constantly point out how much the audience like someone who is direct, and how they always laugh with pleasure at a really ‘obvious’ idea. Ordinary people asked to improvise will search for some ‘original’ idea because they want to be thought clever…
‘What’s for supper?’ a bad improviser will desperately try to think up something original…he’ll finally drag up some idea like ‘fried mermaid.’ If he’d just said ‘fish’ the audience would have been delighted. No two people are exactly alike, and the more obvious an improviser is, the more himself he appears.”
It’s sometimes also described as Be Average. I’ve written about this here and there’s a podcast here that Johnnie Moore and I did with David about this very topic.
This seems to be one of the hardest improv principles to live by, especially if you are entrapped by the Tyranny of Excellence, or the fear of not being (insert your own word here eg clever, smart, good…) enough.
I must be one of the last people on the planet to see Chooka in action (if the YouTube views are any indication). In this audition clip for Australia’s Got Talent, Chooka epitomises this principle: put down your clever, and pick up your ordinary. If this principle still doesn’t make sense to you, watch Chooka in action. What is ordinary to Chooka is extraordinary to others. And how could I resist writing about someone who improvises to boot!