While there is no authoritative list of the defining characteristics of the screwball comedy genre, films considered to be definitive of the genre usually feature farcical situations, a combination of slapstick with fast-paced repartee, and a plot involving courtship and marriage or remarriage.The film critic Andrew Sarris has defined the screwball comedy as "a sex comedy without the sex".The couple is often a well-to-do female interested in romance and a generally passive, emasculated, or weak male who resists romance, such as in Bringing Up Baby (1938), or a sexually-frustrated, humiliated male who is thwarted in romance, as in Howard Hawks' farce I Was a Male War Bride (1949).The zany but glamorous characters often have contradictory desires for individual identity and for union in a romance under the most unorthodox, insane or implausible circumstances (such as in Preston Sturges' classic screwball comedy and battle of the sexes The Lady Eve).It confuses the batter who doesn't know what to expect.The pitch was 'invented' by Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants in the early 1900s, but it was not until around 1930 when another New York Giants player, Carl Hubbell, gave the pitch its name.Screwball comedy was tied to a period of transition in American humor that gained momentum by the late 1920s.The dominant comedy character had been the capable cracker-barrel type, such as Will Rogers; it now became an antihero, best exemplified by characters in , 1937).
Screwball comedies also tend to contain ridiculous, farcical situations, such as in , The Philadelphia Story).
For example, Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 thriller The 39 Steps features the gimmick of a young couple who find themselves handcuffed together and who eventually, almost in spite of themselves, fall in love with one another, and Woody Van Dyke's 1934 detective comedy The Thin Man portrays a witty, urbane couple who trade barbs as they solve mysteries together.
Many of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals of the 1930s also feature screwball comedy plots, notably The Gay Divorcee (1934) and Top Hat (1935).
Some scholars point to this frequent device as evidence of the shift in the American moral code as it showed freer attitudes about divorce (though the divorce always turns out to have been a mistake).
Other films from this period in other genres incorporate elements of the screwball comedy.
The screwball comedy has proven to be one of the most popular and enduring film genres.