The member of an ensemble cast with no distinctive physical or personality traits. They may be smart, but not as smart as The Smart Guy. They may be strong, but not as strong as The Big Guy. In short, there is pretty much nothing remarkable or distinctive about them. They would be The Everyman or Standardized Leader ... if they were the main character.
However, they are not the main character. Someone else is The Hero and The Generic Guy is stuck in a secondary role. Thus, the generic guy will typically get very little to do or eventually be written out of the series.
As one can see below, there is a tendency for these characters to be Token Minorities, for several reasons. First, they cannot be the star because they are a token. Second, since they have no traits at all, they don't have negative traits; thus, the writers can claim that they are positive role models. Additionally, if your generic guy is the only minority character in the opening credits, there will be heck to pay and cries of "racism!" from Moral Guardians if the producers try to cut the generic guy, meaning that they're much less likely than "regular" generic guys to suffer from Chuck Cunningham Syndrome a few seasons in.
If the character is stuck in this role despite their best efforts, then it is a case of I Just Want to Be Special. If they take the lack of recognizable traits to a level where it becomes an advantage on its own right, then they are The Nondescript. If the character seems to be almost superhumanly normal, it might be a Ridiculously Average Guy. A Featureless Protagonist is a protagonist that has had this done to the extreme in a Video Game. In a video game with many playable characters, this character will be the Jack of All Stats. Compare Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs? and Unfazed Everyman. If there is more than one in a work, they can easily become Those Two Guys.
Jou (Joe) from Digimon Adventurethought he was this character later on in the series, once he realised that he wasn't particularly smart, brave, strong or willful. He wasn't the most popular character, either, probably because he wasn't pretty andeasily slashable never mind that they're all eight to twelve years old, it's the Nostalgia Filter talking since we were that age back then). In Digimon Adventure 02, having outlived his usefulness, he becomes something of a Brother Chuck.
Joe may have thought he was The Generic Guy but he definitely wasn't. He was by far the closest the original crew had to comic relief. And that unslashable is actually quite not true as pairing with him DOES exist.
Rivalz Cardemonde from Code Geass (and Kaname Ohgi to an extent). Lampshaded near the end of the series, where Rivalz is disappointed at the fact that most of his close friends have been involved in something interesting while he's still just a student at school.
Ohgi, on the other hand, had the benefit of being a high-up member of the Black Knights... who was essentially a glorified secretary for the main character. Until he betrays him. At which point, his greatest accomplishment was still sleeping with the token enemy chick.
Actually, Nami's joke is much more hilarious and subtle. She's a fairly stereotypical Japanese delinquent type. However, she just so happens to be in a class with a girl so obsessed with perfection that she shoved a cake into a blender when it became to tough to split the four strawberries on it evenly; a girl so shy she can't even talk in real life, but is super abusive on the internet; and a girl who's so super-positive that she saw someone hanging themselves and assumed that they were trying to make themselves taller. In any other world she'd be the Jerk Ass and the protagonist, and even that part pales to the jerkassery of the lawsuit-happy Kaere. In this, she's a "normal" background character.
Funnily enough, she was originally going to be the main character, and Kiri Komori was going to be her male love interest. While Nami was a delinquent with slipping grades, and Komori was going to be a good student who never left school. Kouji Kumeta decided that his last romantic-comedy manga, Sodatte Darling, kind of sucked. So he made it a romantic dark comedy manga about two main characters with extremely differing personalities finding their place in the way by way of political and sociological parody. And Nami was forced into the background. Somehow making her even more generic, and quickly dropping her delinquent status.
Paz eventually gets A Day in the Limelight which allows him to evolve past the generic role, though. We learn that he's the team's resident cold-hearted assassin, as well as an equally cold-hearted ladies man. Oh, and he may or may not be his own robot clone. No one seems to care either way, least of all Paz himself.
If memory serves, Borma's informed ability was the explosives expert.
Borma gets a little bit of the limelight in 2nd Gig, too, when Section 9 eventually has a bomb they need defusing.
Both characters barely get any dialogue, appearances, or mentions in the manga itself. They'd be classified as scene extras if it hadn't been emphasized that they are indeed members of Section 9. The anime decided to give them at least * SOME* sort of defining background.
Rai/Ray of Beyblade, compared to both his former and current teammates, is rather normal in tone, essentially being a middle path between Tyson and Kai's personality (albeit with the flaws of both diluted heavily).
Shinpachi from Gintama is mostly around to serve as the Only Sane Man, not having many notable qualities outside of that, and also looking generic to the point where his glasses are considered the only notable feature of his appearance. Naturally, this is made fun of on numerous occasions, such as it being a Running Gag for Gintoki and others act as though the glasses are Shinpachi, and Gintoki using his face as the basic outline for drawing the faces of other characters in one of Ginpachi-sensei segments.
Yamazaki of the Shinsengumi is even more generic then Shinpachi (Something that he proudly lampshades when they battle against each other in the Bentendo Owee arc). His love of badminton was initially his only real character trait, up until he was given A Day in the Limelight and developed someissues as a result of being forced to subsist on nothing but anpan for days on end during a stakeout.
Tenten of Naruto is given very little character development over the years, she's rarely useful in combat, she doesn't have any distinct quirks, and no unique abilities.
In fact, there is so little information about her that various appearances in Fighting Games based on Naruto have had wildly varying moves and approaches. Shino is always about laying bugs on the field, Deidara is always about launching clay bombs, Shikamaru is always about controlling shadows, but every development team has had its own interpretation of Tenten.
Ranma's school chums Hiroshi and Daisuke from Ranma ½. Little is known about them other than their perverted nature and desire for girlfriends.
Maya Matsumoto from WORKING!!. She is seen many times throughout the series and is even in the opening. She isn't even shown talking or interacting with anyone besides customers. In the final episode of the first season, we find out this is exactly how she wants it.
Keima: She's exactly a middling real girl among real girls!
Madoka's dad in Puella Magi Madoka Magica, whose only notable trait is being a genderflipped housewife. He never really does anything besides cooking, playing with his son Tatsuya, and talking about his wife, who does all of the non-generic parenty scenes and associated portrayals of Adult Fear.
Played with in the Bokurano manga with Yoko Machi. Every tankobon begins with a list of Zearth's pilots and short descriptions. Throughout the series, Machi remains "That girl with the freckles." It eventually turns out that, as a girl from one of the series' many parallel worlds (as well as Koyemshi's sister,) she's far from generic.
Attack on Titan plays with this, in the case of Bertolt Hoover. A self-described Extreme Doormat, there really isn't much distinct about him other than being extremely tall and prone to nervous sweating. He's easily forgotten among the more colorful personalities in the cast, quietly lingering in the background of scenes and not really contributing anything to the plot. Then, he finally gets some attention..... right before being revealed to be the human form of the Colossal Titan. Him seeming so generic concealed considerable Foreshadowing that only makes sense upon a second reading.
Martian Manhunter of Justice League. It says something about the overall quirkiness of a roster of characters when being a telepathic ghost shapeshifter from Mars isn't sufficiently "quirky". A telepathic ghost shapeshifter from Mars with all the powers of a Paragon (flight, superstrength, supertoughness) and whose only weakness is fear of fire (not that it hurts him much anymore, he's just afraid)!
In recent Metal Men comics, Copper is considered extremely bland and forgettable by the other Metal Men, to the point that all of them act as though they've never met her before every time they see her.
In New X-Men, poor Tag became the Hellion team generic guy. He didn't have Hellion's ego (or power), Wither's angst, Mercury's one sided love (and emo), Dust's nationalism, or Santo's lovable big guy status. Of course this was a bad time to be Generic Guy. The kids are expendable.
By the end of the series when the students had only one team, Prodigy became the generic guy (he was the only average human). And while he did know every fighting style of every X-Men to ever teach him... he got almost entirely cut out of the final storyarc. Hellion, Dust, Mercury, and Santo stayed the same as above, Elixir took over Wither's angst spot, Surge was the leader dealing with The Chains of Commanding, Pixie became The Chick, Anole became the Badass Normal (and Straight Gay), X-23 was well, like her brother-father, and poor Prodigy fell through the cracks in the plot. Being The Smart Guy does not pay off apparently.
The Dalton Cousins from Lucky Luke included two such characters: there was hot-headed leader Joe, tall and ditzy Averell, and then there were William and Jack, who were rather bland and basically interchangeable.
Well, at least everyone knows who Balder is. The REAL Generic Guy in that family would be Vidar. Who, We hear you ask? Exactly.
Due to the comic's usage of Loads and Loads of Characters from practically every interpretation of the franchise, some of the Freedom Fighters lean into this Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog. Rotor in particular, originally The Smart Guy and something of a dork, couldn't match up to the increasing number of tech experts in the team and, while still getting the odd spotlight, is one of the most normal and non distinct of the main cast personality wise.
This was the reason why the pirate Erix was quickly removed from the recurring Astérix pirate crew and Put on a Bus to Hell. The other three main pirate characters are really quirky and endearing with good Comic Trio chemistry, but he had no real traits and nothing to do, leading to him soon being sold into slavery.
Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) in National Treasure, until she's kissed by Nicolas Cage, when she promptly transforms into the Satellite Love Interest. True, she is very smart, but that's not notable in a movie where pretty much everyone but the Mooks is The Smart Guy in some way. However, she is the only one (out of the main characters, at least) to have access to the Declaration of Independence, which makes her pretty darn important. She is also the one to save Ben from the FBI, willing to make a Deal with the Devil and thought she had the upper hand, not knowing Ian went the extra mile to nab Patrick.
Zeppo Marx was usually the sane man that worked as a foil to the other three's zany schemes (though some people see him as a parody of the Only Sane Man archetype). Unfortunately, all Marx Brothers films were full of relatively sane men, since Groucho, Chico, and Harpo are the baseline. Zeppo disliked his role to the point of leaving the comic troupe when the scripts started being formulized.
This is even more baffling when you learn that just about everyone the brothers knew agreed that Zeppo was the most naturally funny one.
In Idiocracy Joe (and apparently Rita as well) were selected by the military in 2005 for how remarkably average they were across several categories. In practice, Joe is more naive than average (to give an example) but still mostly generic. 500 years in the future, Joe and Rita are the smartest people in the world.
The Bowery Boys consisted of the smart leader (Leo Gorcey), the dumb follower (Huntz Hall) and a bunch of generic guys like David Gorcey who were just there to flesh out the gang. This trope was recycled when the Bowery Boys were recycled for animated cartoons as the Anthill Mob (in Wacky Races and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop). "Boss" was Leo Gorcey, "Dingaling" was Huntz Hall, and the rest of the Anthill Mob were just the generic guys.
Averted when they were originally know as the Dead End Kids or East Side Kids and made numerous movies in the 1930s and 40s. Characters played by members Billy Halop, Bobby Jordan and Gabriel Dell were given equal prominence with those of Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall.
"The problem was that not only was Grey strictly average in mind, he was completely forgettable in body. His driver's license listed his hair as 'hair-colored' and his eyes as 'neutral.'"
And then he ends up in Xanth, where he discovers that he's not so ordinary after all, and is in fact a Superpower Lottery winner.
Parodied in the Paul Stewert and Chris Riddell novel Muddle Earth, which features the "last and certainly least" wizard known as Colin the Nondescript.
"Alekseyev" from the Russian classical novel Oblomov. "Hardly anyone, apart from his mother, noticed his birth, very few people notice him throughout his life, and, surely, no one will notice his departure from this Earth". So unmemorable that no one, not even the narrator, remembers his name - some call him Ivanov, others Vasilyev, yet others Andreyev, while the narrator settles on Alekseyev (all of these are rather common family names in Russia).
Don from Dark Lord of Derkholm. While all the other Derk-spawn have a defining personality trait (Shona's the level-headed young woman, Kit's the sullen teenager, Blade's the magical cute boy, Calette's a Wrench Wench, Lydda's the stubborn chef, and Elda's the Deliberately Cute Child), Don is for the most part a well-adjusted teenager who just sort of gets dragged into his sibling's antics.
The Rainbow Magic series has the protagonists Rachel and Kirsty. They're nice, imaginative girls and that's about it.
The fairies they help are no better, with some of them heading into Flat Character territory.
Live Action TV
Beth from Harper's Island was probably the worst offender in the cast. She appeared in the first 10 (out of 13) episodes, and she was lucky to get two lines an episode. A large chunk of viewers probably didn't know her name, as it was only mentioned once before she went missing and was found dead.
Lieutenant Ford in Stargate Atlantis, for the entirety of the first season. In the second, he was given Token Development... just in time to be replaced by a more "interesting" character.
Pete from Smallville is the only main character not not have a space of his own. Everyone else has a place that says something about the person, somewhere to work or relax and be themselves, but him. He even complains about always being in Clark's shadow. He finds out that Clark is an alien but that's not enough to make him interesting so after a while the writers put him on a bus.
John from the first season of Taxi, who was so generic that he was written out after the first season (and replaced with Cloudcuckoolander Jim).
Jack Hunter on Boy Meets World. Came to the show late, when the cast dynamics were pretty much already set up, and other than the fact that his character was richer than everyone else, they didn't establish much personality for him. He was there basically to react to the humorous things Eric would do.
Andy Travis of WKRP in Cincinnati. He was originally the point-of-view character, being the new guy to the station, but ended up as the guy no one remembers. Bailey Quarters probably falls into this category too for anyone who doesn't think she's hot.
Alan Carter became this in Space: 1999, especially in season 2 when Tony Vederchi was introduced as the young, hot, action ready, ladies man character. This left Alan with nothing to do than fly the Eagle and act as a third wheel when with Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell.
Brendan Lambert in Step by Step. So generic, that he does not show up in the final season- and the plot is not affected at all!!!
Jonathan Levinson is this for the longest time. He tries to break free of it and by season six he does when he joins Warren and Andrew in the Trio, where even though he's not the leader of it he become a major player in the plot.
Riley has been accused of this. Compared to Buffy's other bad-boy love interests (Angel, Spike, and Parker), at the core Riley's just a normal, squeaky-clean, church-going guy from the midwestern US. This is one of the factors in the fandom's dislike of him; he's just not as interesting as the other characters.
Adrian in Carrusel. He gets a name, but no defining characteristics or plotlines. He is just there in the classroom and has the occasional line.
Kirk and Leslie from Newhart. Kirk was the owner of the Minuteman Café next door to the Stratford. He was a chronic liar. After a while (one episode) this got old, and Kirk just stood around. Even worse was Leslie, the hotel's maid, whose backstory was that she was a fabulously wealthy world-class skier who took the job at the Stratford to see what a normal life would be like. So one could only assume she'd be a Rich Bitch, or at least spoiled enough that she wouldn't be able to perform well as a maid, right? Wrong. She's wholesome, nice, down-to-earth, and painfully bland. Leslie stayed until the end of Season 1, after which she was replaced by her cousin, a Spoiled Brat who actually seems out of place working in a hotel. Kirk stayed until the end of Season 2. For this season, the show relied completely on Bob Newhart and Tom Poston's characters. It's a wonder the show even got renewed for a second season.
The strip eatures a dark haired, personality-free character that Scott Adams refers to in books as "Ted the Generic Guy". If someone is going to be fired, it's usually him. Ditto if someone's going to be killed. It may not even be the same Ted every time. Adams has admitted that he came into being just because he can't draw many types of characters, so he just draws Ted whenever he needs someone generic. As you can see, the above screenshot from the TV series is a profile of Ted which lampshades all this.
Early on in the comic, before he became an actual character, Wally (or at least someone who looked exactly like him) filled this role.
Lyman from Garfield he was Odie's original owner, he was nearly identical to Jon in every way except for his appearance, and we knew very little about him and what he did for a living other than being Jon's college roommmate and for some unknown reason came to live with Jon after he claimed he had no place to go, he was basically introduced as someone Jon could interact with, he was slowly phased out and completely disappeared after 1983.
Mitt Romney's entire campaign strategy in the 2012 election cycle (both primary and general) was to present himself as the Generic Guy and try as much as possible to keep the focus on his opponent. This served him very well in the GOP primary - there was a new perceived frontrunner almost every month for a while, they were all new to the national stage while his 2008 run meant the press treated him as a known commodity. In the general election, Barack Obama being an incumbent and therefore even more of a known commodity, Romney finally started to receive the vetting he'd never had in the almost-two-year primary run.
During John Kerry's 2004 campaign, the focus of which was almost entirely on how he wasn't George W. Bush, while doing little to explain why the electorate should vote for him instead.
In wrestling, this trope often leads to a wrestler winding up in the midcard or as a jobber to the stars. Current examples include Ted DiBiase Jr. and Alex Riley, the latter to the point where his silhouette is used for advertising a "mystery opponent".
Ford Prefect in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. At the start, you've got perplexed everyman Arthur Dent, and his wacky friend Ford... but then Zaphod, who's far wackier than Ford, gets introduced, as well as a whole galaxy of incredibly weird creatures and sights; this leaves Ford neither particularly normal nor particularly wacky. At least Ford continues somewhat in his role of "Galaxy Smart Guy", guiding and educating Arthur on the ways of the Galaxy. Though in the third book and beyond he becomes somewhat of a Shell-Shocked Senior.
Grimm plays humans from the Grimm Lands as just barely this instead of a full-on Empty Shell. They're two-dimensional and less-than-real, being defined by their job and having little more to them, showing only rather limited and basic personalities. Their reaction to children from the real world — who are (barring a bad player) Rounded Characters by definition — varies, but tends to be strong.
Amos Hart in Chicago, who bitterly complained about his nonentity status in "Mr. Cellophane:"
Cellophane Mister Cellophane Shoulda been my name Mister Cellophane 'Cause you can look right through me Walk right by me And never know I'm there...
Kurando in Shadow Hearts: Covenant. An above-average physical fighter whose only gimmick is that he can turn into a demon... but you have Yuri, who is stronger, can transform into more demon forms, is a much greater Badass, and is the main character. Kurando is a quiet, Bishōnen samurai in a party with a Large Ham pro wrestler, an old man with a puppet that can cast devastating magical spells, a wolf, and Princess Anastasia Romanova.
Zack in Megaman Star Force 2 notes that he doesn't get grades as good as Luna's (despite being The Smart Guy in personality and group role), he isn't as strong like Bud, and he isn't brave like Geo.
He is also normal due to the fact that he didn't meet up with an alien partner and receive a wave form, as the other four (Geo/Omega-Xis, Luna/Ophiuca, Sonia/Lyra and Bud/Taurus) did.
Mother 3 practically goes out of its way to describe playable character Duster as having no defining or interesting personality traits. However, the description is misleading. Duster is an interestinganddeep character, just like almost everybody else in the game.
Jacob Taylor of the Mass Effect series. While he was intended to be a well-adjusted individual in a dysfunctional group, since he very rarely interacts with any of the characters (and Shepard tends to play the role of the foil) he instead just comes off as a boring character in a cast of different personalities. While he does have a romance, it instead comes off as unintentionally hilarious at best and is completely invalidated by the third game, where he cheats on Shepard for another woman.
Rochelle from Left 4 Dead 2 was perceived as this for a while due to her seemingly bland personality. However, she's seemed to have mostly averted this post-Sacrifice.
Kooper from Paper Mario is the most normal of Mario's partners. He's really the only one that doesn't have a personality quirk.
Goombario doesn't have much of an actual personality either. However, his Tattle ability lets him tell you his opinions on almost every enemy, area, and NPC in the game, which do give off a semblance of personality.
Nida from Final Fantasy VIII, so much so that when Headmaster Cid speaks to him during the SeeD graduation ceremony he tells him to "do your best even if you don't stand out" and he's not even given so much as a name until much later when he's taught how to operate the now mobile Balamb Garden becoming its chief navigational officer.
Kellam in Fire Emblem Awakening is the biggest, toughest, and heaviest member of the cast, but has virtually no personality beyond being a Nice Guy. The other characters barely know he exists, even though he wears a huge suit of white and orange armor everywhere he goes. He's not The Nondescript because he has a number of outstanding features, he's just so quiet and reserved that he kind of blends into the scenery wherever he goes.
Russel Bagman in Super Robot Wars Original Generation, who serves as Katina Tarask's devoted subordinate and quite possibly the most "normal" person in all of Original Generation, without being a Flat Character. Additionally, Russel is the only original character (sub-pilots excluded) who doesn't have a personal Leitmotif. Ironically, this makes him stand out to many fans.
Real Life's Alan Extra, who appears almost as frequently as the main four characters, and occasionally John Generic.
Sam from The Strangerhood is an excellent example of this trope, especially considering how wacky the rest of the cast is.
In Survival of the Fittest version 3, this is pretty much the defining trait of Alice Jones from the beginning. There was literally very little to have her stand out from the rest of the student body base. She wasn't particularly notable in personality, interests, or skills, which was pretty much the point of the character.
Interestingly, Reika Ishida was initially denied for v4 for being "too normal" as to be unbelievable, encouraging the handler to add her OCD.
Horrifying Planet from The Onion describes deer in this way.
Deer are fine...From an evolutionary perspective, there is nothing wrong with deer...Lots of other animals do this so, not exactly breaking the mold here, but it's fine...
Some incarnations of Freddy make him out to be a neurotic blusterer (live-action movies) or a Small Name, Big Ego who's always wrong about any evidence (A Pup Named Scooby-Doo). Probably because his sense of "leadership" was "taking" Daphne (and sometimes Velma too) somewhere until Scooby and Shaggy accidentally stumble onto something important or until Velma makes a plan that the gang can use to catch the villain. This is lampshaded in many, many places. On the other hand, it worked, so maybe he was just very Genre Savvy.
Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated probably develops him the most. While he's flanderized into becoming obsessed with traps, he's slightly Adorkable, and gets more fleshed out when trying to discover his family's history his real parents and surprisingly enough, become the biggest Woobie in the show.
He was the last character to be the protagonist of an episode, long after all the others had been the focus of several episodes apiece, very late in the show's run. The writers (and his long-suffering voice actor) tried their best to give Tim an actual personality, but to no avail.
The kids in Transformers generally lack personality, ironically making them less human than the robots.
That is not to say the Transformers themselves can't be generics, an not only because there are Loads and Loads of Characters, some of whom barely get a line or two of written character.
Mack from Daria. While his girlfriend Jodie got development in Season 2, Mack didn't do much of anything beyond the incredibly annoyed Straight Man to Kevin.
Of course, being able to stick with the same voice actor for more than a few episodes might've helped.
Django Brown of Phineas and Ferb didn't have any real extreme qualities like the rest of the gang, and quickly faded into being just a background character.
Arthur the aardvark appears to follow this trope as the character has no outstanding personality, his normal nature occasionally lampshaded and made fun of. The character does however seem to be a generic character in a cast otherwise consisting of non-generic characters.
Played for laughs with the in-universe video game: Virtual Goose V5.0 where Arthur and his friends end up playing as goose characters loosely based on their personalities. Arthur ends up with a character called "Plain Goose" who dresses up in a similar outfit as Arthur's.
When describing his old crew, Professor Farnsworth mentions Captain Lando Tucker as a man with no characteristics.
On the actual show, Hermes Conrad tends to be this, with no real distinctive personality traits aside being very dedicated and having the universal hatred of Zoidberg. Recent episodes are attempting to give him Character Development.
Chris Griffin from Family Guy comes across as this in recent episodes, due to the "wacky fat idiot" plots being taken up by Peter and the "high school drama" plots by Meg.
Doug Funnie has a few quirks and a bit of a Mr. Imagination thing going, but is still one of the blandest characters in the show, right down to having a Caucasian skin tone while living in an Amazing Technicolour Population. Lampshaded multiple times: apparently his achievement is "average" in all fields, and in the episode where they first got the Internet, he chose the "nondescript fan" option for a forum based around his favourite band and it looked like an eight-bit version of himself.