Comedy is not inherently ‘reactionary’ or ‘progressive’ of course, whetherour concern lies with the manipulation of form or more direct questions of an overt ‘political’ content. Yet comedy, as Kathleen Rowe suggests in the opening to this chapter, does have a particular relationship to authority and to the transgression of social convention; comedy provides a space in which taboos can be addressed, made visible and also contained, negotiated. This makes the position of women in comedy films and as comic performers an interesting one. The two are quite distinct; female roles in comic films are not necessarily taken by comic performers, for example (think of spoof movies such as The Naked Gun (1988) and Hot Shots (1991)). In his analysis of Hollywood comedian-comedy Frank Krutnik argues that the genre is male-centred, producing movies that marginalise female performers. The eccentricity of the (male) comedian is defined partly in terms of his refusal of a conformity that is projected onto women and thence disowned and devalued. Thus the form ‘repeatedly offers controlled assaults upon, or inversions of, the conformist options of male identity, sexuality and responsibility’. This within a narrative context in which ‘women tend to signify

the demands of integration and responsibility for the male’ (Karnick and Jenkins 1995:37). Some recent successful Hollywood comedies seem to affirm this trajectory. The hit movie Dumb and Dumber (1994), for example, casts Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as male partners who, while they are tempted by and drawn to women (the narrative is triggered, after all, by Carrey’s mistaken plan to return a suitcase of money to Mary/Lauren Holly), are patently too childish to engage in adult relationships.1 Such male comedy couples, like that of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin or Laurel and Hardy discussed by Krutnik, operate in terms of a refusal of heterosexuality as conformity within an Oedipal framework that in turn constructs them as childish.