This stylistic device did not originate in the screwballs (although it may be argued to have reached its zenith there): it can also be found in many of the old Hollywood cycles including the gangster film, romantic comedies, and others.
Screwball comedies also tend to contain ridiculous, farcical situations, such as in , The Philadelphia Story).
Antiheroic humor is driven by the ritualistic humiliation of the male; screwball comedy merely dresses up the setting and substitutes beautiful people for this farcical battle of the sexes.
Many elements of the screwball genre can be traced back to such stage plays as Shakespeare's Like farce, screwball comedies often involve mistaken identities or other circumstances in which a character or characters try to keep some important fact a secret.
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".
In screwball comedy, the romantic couple at the center of the story are eccentrics, often portrayed through slapstick.
The films are usually set among wealthy people who can, despite the hardships of the Depression, afford to behave oddly.
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).