Be Obvious

Being obvious isn't always bad

I’ve always been a pretty smart guy.  Sometimes that’s to my benefit, other times, well, not so much. But we are what we are.

You’re smart too.  I know, because you’re reading this!
(Okay, I don’t know you personally, so you MIGHT be a complete idiot…but you’re a complete idiot with good taste in blogs.)

Being a smart person, you’ve probably been in situations where you’re sitting in a room with other smart people, under pressure to come up with an amazing idea…because you’re all smart people.  That pressure may come from your boss, your peers, or from yourself. No matter where it comes from, you end up sitting there, mentally trashing ideas left and right because they’re not good enough, they’re not brilliant.

Sometimes you’ll come through with an amazing idea. Something unique and brilliant. Something no one else in that room could have come up with.

But most times, you’ll be sitting there stressed out of your gourd and mentally flailing for that one elusive brilliant thought.  That’s when someone else chimes in with an idea you tossed out twenty seven thoughts ago.

And everyone in the room loves it.

This happens in improv performance, too.  You’ll see performers who seem hesitant on stage, looking for the perfect thing to say.  One of ten tries, they’ll be brilliant.  They’ll say or do something that’s pure genius that brings the house down with laughter.

The other nine times, they’ll be behind everyone else.

Those area the times when another performer will say something that seems glaringly obvious – maybe just a simple observation about the characters or the situation on stage.  Now, you might think that isn’t very entertaining. (Improv performers are supposed to be comedic geniuses, right?) But you wouldn’t believe the laughs you hear from an audience when something obvious is called out for them – something they all noticed but somehow still missed!

And when you think about it, the majority of comedy is just that – someone pointing out something obvious for you that you’ve never noticed before…at least not the way they see it:

“They say ‘Get on the plane! Get on the plane!’……I say ‘fuck you, I’m getting IN the plane!’ Let the daredevils get ON the plane.”
George Carlin

“Laugh all you want, but when a zebra talks, people listen.”
George Meyer

“I’m just trying to go through life without looking stupid. It’s not working out too well.”
Brian Regan

And there’s never a shortage of comedians with new observations about things you see and experience every day.  70 years after Henny Youngman first said “Take my wife…please” Louis C.K. is still making audiences laugh with wife-jokes.

The point being that what’s obvious to you may not be obvious to everyone else in the room – not until you say it. So just say it.  What’s obvious to you may be brilliant to someone else.  But at the very least, it gets an idea out there for others to build on, and gets the thought process rolling.

Brilliance rarely starts with a brilliant idea – generally it starts with a lot of obvious ideas that build on one another until they reach something new, original, and brilliant.  The theory of relativity was born out of Einstein staring at the clock waiting for class to end.

There are some different schools of thought on this principle – some improv schools say “look for your third idea,” or “don’t settle for the first idea.”  But you’ve got to have those first ideas before you get to the second or third one.  Without those first obvious ideas, it’ll be a long, painful hike to ideas two and three.  And if you’re finding the obvious, ideas two, three, and twenty will come a lot faster and easier.

So if you want to be brilliant, be obvious.  Keep “yes, and”-ing those obvious ideas, and you’ll create enough momentum to propel your group into brilliance.

  • Carter Morgan

    This is such a great post.

    I’ve noticed this EXACT same misconception many times when I do standup. Sometimes it’s getting an unexpected laugh at a throwaway line onstage… there’s been times when something that seemed so obvious to me has KILLED crowds.

    Other times it’s the opposite… What’s in my head isn’t in other people’s head, so I have to say the “obvious” to allow the crowd in on the joke.

    Great post, Ken.