In more serious movies there can be a role called comic relief character which is there to make you laugh a bit and make the movie more colorful.

However, while I was watching a movie with a character like that in it, I noticed, that I can't remember a movie, where the comic relief character was a woman. I'm sure there is, but most of the time it's a guy.

Heck, some purposefully funny movies have a character who is very serious, not like the other characters, and they are - based on my experiences - usually women. (Like in Guardian of the Galaxy)

Is there any reason it is like this?

  • 8
    Because laughing at women or calling/making them dumb is seen as sexist?
    – cde
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 7:19
  • @cde This makes it seem like to me, that they don't think people would laugh on a funny woman, which us still sexist.
    – Bálint
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 7:39
  • @cde That seems like the seed for a reasonable answer then.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 11:14
  • @Bálint You can laugh at men in movies, but laugh at women and its immediately portrayed as sexist (having this comedy being persistent and not just a one time laugh about the character.), it's literally that simple.
    – Alox
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:33
  • @Bálint the movie industry won't jeopardize their name simply to mock one goofy woman as a side role to laugh at.
    – Alox
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:34

3 Answers 3


First of all, the movie industry is a bit backwards, still, and that manifests it self to this particular question in a couple of ways -

Physical attractiveness is still a much more dominant requirement for female roles/actors than male roles/actors. A comic relief character often needs to look funny or fits a mock-able stereotype. It's much easier for a male actor who looks goofy to have an extended career than a female one, so there is a larger pool of readily available talent for those kinds of roles.

Major studios, themselves, are more interested in making money than the pure artistry, in general, so they like to keep recycling things that have made money for them. Goofy male sidekick tends to go over well? They're going to greenlight projects with that, just like they like to do "reboots" of popular stories and sequels, or movies that fit a particular formula. If they are nervous about general box-office appeal, they might even push for the addition of that element into a movie.

A lot of time the comedy of the comic relief character is, to a large degree, laughing AT that character. It's a bit safer and more comfortable, agree with it or not, to laugh at a male character without running into accusations of sexism.

Finally, while less common, those kids of roles do exist. You see them all the time in movies that are more dominated by female characters because their companions who they interact with are going to be more heavily female-populated. Even in more traditionally male-led casts, you will see some good ones. Here's a few I can think of -

Joan Cusak's role as John Cusak's office manager for his assassination business in Grosse Pointe Blank.

Jennifer Lawrence's ditsy, money-grubbing bored housewife role in American Hustle.

Marisa Tomei as Mona Lisa Vito, the girlfriend of Joe Pesci's character in My Cousin Vinny.

Whoopi Goldberg as the psychic in Ghost

The title-specific role of Owen's mother in the movie Throw Mamma From the Train.

I'm sure there are many others that people can think of. But, sure, there are definitely more male roles for that, but that's true for almost any character type this isn't exclusively female.

  • The recent movie The Heat also comes to mind, with Melissa McCarthy playing the comic relief. Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:53

Some of the older Bond girls were comic, for example Goodnight in "The man with the golden gun" and Rosie in "Live and let die". Today many of the jokes appear sexistic, although they are probably not worse then Bond's attitude towards women (which has changed a lot since Roger Moore). So I guess that cultural change plays a role.

Another reason could be that the stupid woman is still used as a stereotype, especially in sitcom. Any producer considering himself "serious" would want to avoid being considered "trivial" comedy, thus avoiding stupid female characters.

Also the two peasants from "The hidden fortress" could have influenced the way we see comic relief, either directly or via R2D2 and C3PO, their most famous epigones.


Oxford's definition of Comic Relief is "Humorous content in a dramatic or literary work intended to offset more serious episodes" or, "A character or characters providing comic relief." That being said, it's no secret that the film industry was preceded by the theatrical industry, from whence they took many of their cues.

The biggest playwright, from whom the world took its cues (and in whose honor I co-founded The Cult of Shakespeare, in university), was Shakespeare. For example, in "Romeo and Juliet," Nurse and Mercutio (although he was really much more than just comic relief, as the play reveals, until the Third Act) provided this comic relief; however, bearing in mind the times, these roles — all of them — were generally played by men.

Comic relief was a product of the Renaissance; it cropped up everywhere as a new form of formerly forbidden expression. Even the tragedy "King Lear" can have comic relief in the form of King Lear himself, a tragic figure who, at moments, seemingly battles no one but the elements, phantom skirmishes and, as one would expect from any Shakespearean play, is full of witticisms.

Tracing a straight line from there to Hollywood is to see how sexism was already firmly implanted in the industry. Through the years we have had the likes of Rosalind Russell (in "His Girl Friday") and Katharine Hepburn ("Woman of the Year" among many others) to buck those trends. In the modern cinema, Joan Cusack (in "Working Girl"), Rosie Perez (in "Untamed Heart"), Melissa McCarthy (tried in vain with "Mike and Molly," also in "Bridesmaids") and Kate McKinnon (comic relief — among established female professionals — in "Ghostbusters") are doing their best to continue doing so. Progress is slow, but I think there has been a wide array of it.

Fighting a century-old machine — plus the history that led to it — will be a battle for decades to come, until the population-at-large releases old prejudices that only men can carry ridicule and ridiculousness. The studios are sadly afraid of their own shadow and will always take the lemming's way out... until someone leads them to a fair, impartial, and ultimately beneficial process of casting, even which films they decide to fund. It boils down to sexism, plain and not-really-so-simple.

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