“O” is for “Over-Originality”

“…the more obvious an idea seems to you, the more clearly it will express your uniqueness, but if you try to be creative, you’ll be forever dredging up the same fashionable stupidities.”

Keith Johnstone, Impro for Storytellers. New York:  Routledge, 1999. p.88


Improvising from a place of fear is unlikely to result in joyful play and it’s not uncommon for one such fear pulsing through an improviser’s busy mind to be that of not appearing creative enough. This desire to seem brilliant or inspired can often result in the blight of Over-Originality. While the pursuit of cleverness can stymy players as they crave the nonexistent “perfect” contribution, a desire to appear original may result in improvisers throwing out random, disconnected or needlessly different offers that ultimately smother, negate or muddy the creative streams already in motion. Although the over-original player hopes to reveal their brilliance for all to see, they invariably stand out for less admirable reasons as their solipsistic actions decay group trust and cohesion. It’s fair to note that players who are not seeking this stance may also – on occasion – surprise their teammates with a seeming non sequitur, but there is a marked difference in stalking originality at all costs and being open to where inspiration might unexpectedly take you. The first is an unhelpful focus and goal; the second is the byproduct of a carefree process.







just leaves

your partners

and the audience




confused or irritated while adding little of value to the process.

I’ve dealt with this improvisational habit from multiple angles in other blog posts: Commandment #9 examines the pitfalls of trying too much or in the wrong ways; Cleverness offers some tell-tale signs that this tendency might be infecting your process; Obvious suggests pointers for addressing an inclination towards over-originality; and Curve Ball provides a potential exception to the rule by offering a more productive avenue for wielding an appetite towards randomness. So here I will heed my own advice and not pursue an overly-original perspective but rather simply ask “Why be over-original when you can be…?”


Players have formed a circle and are constructing a Word-At-A-Time Story.

Player A: “Once…:

Player B: “upon…”

Player C: “RHINOCEROS!!!!!”

Why Be Over-Original When You Can Be…

1.) Present.

2.) Effortless.

3.) Reactive.

4.) Honest.

5.) Yourself.

Final Thought

Worshipping at the altar of over-originality manifests a poorly constructed belief as to what creativity should look or feel like in the improvisational endeavor. “Creative” need not be synonymous with unique, random or gobsmackingly surprising. Rather, it can (and should?) just be an honest reaction or expression of you and/or your character.

Related Entries: Commandment #9, Curve Ball, Offer Antonyms: Obvious Synonyms: Cleverness, Randomness

Cheers, David Charles.
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© 2022 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Game: Hesitation Speech

Published by improvdr

A professional improvisational practitioner with over thirty years experience devising, directing, performing, teaching and consulting on the craft of spontaneous (and scripted) theatre and performance.

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