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A Screwball Comedy Definition You Won’t Soon Forget

Throughout film we’ve seen film genre theory used to describe a variety of different film styles and techniques used in the categorization of films. In defining film genres, one of the earliest and widely known was comedy. But when defining comedy films, several sub-genres come up, including screwball comedy which is more less a style, and underlying attitude that takes place in films of this genre. In this screwball comedy definition from Team Beverly Boy, we take a look at the unique sub-genre screwball comedy, how it came about, and the core elements and attitudes that define screwball comedies.

What is Screwball Comedy?

Screwball comedy is a sub-genre of film that is represented by a distinct classic American style of comedy which was crazy, ridiculous, erratic, and off-the-wall. Early screwball comedies incorporated slapstick comedies, theatrical farce, and light-hearted dialogue to capture the attention of the audience while producing excitement and laughter through incredible outbursts which often focus on whole-hearted character attempts to outwit or outmaneuver one-another.

Defining Screwball Comedy

In creating a screwball comedy definition, it’s important to note that this genre of film is characterized by a female dominant role in which the male central character’s masculinity is challenged – think My Man Godfrey from 1936 feature Carole Lombard, one of the earliest actresses of screwball comedy.

A screwball comedy definition must include absurdity, plots that are as beyond the “norm” as anything, and an emotional connection that plays right into the feelings of the audience. Social injustices were a major defining element of the times during the Great Depression when moviegoers would sneak off to the theater for a brief escape from the sadness and misery, and screwball comedies were there to fill the void.

As a result, comedy took on a level of absurdity in order to counteract some of the absurd feelings and emotions that people were having in that era.

Elements of a Screwball Comedy

The primary elements of screwball comedies include of course absurdity, light-hearted fun, underlying romantic elements (but they are not emotionally connected or “deep”), and irrational behavior that is generally played out by female actresses who are largely overshadowing the male role. Additional elements of screwball comedy include:


– Battle of the sexes

– Hapless men

– Feisty females

– Coincidental circumstances

– Misfortune

– Witness

– Logic

– Embarrassment

– Mistaken identity

– Misleading progression

– Frantic conclusions

– Narrative chaos

Typically, in any screwball comedy definition that makes sense, the characters are wacky, zanny, out of this world illogical. They may be struggling with an identity crisis, facing a rocky road to marriage, and rapid-firing the various dialogue that is meant to crack the audience up while building upon the insanity of the screwball comedy being defined.

Screwball comedies are a mix of humor resulting from ridiculousness, witt, and narrative-dialogue that can only be described as mismatched, misinterpreted, and misrepresented, and entirely ridiculous but incredibly hilarious.