Sex comedy

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For Italian sex comedy, see commedia sexy all'italiana.

Sex comedy or more broadly sexual comedy is a genre in which comedy is motivated by sexual situations and love affairs. Although "sex comedy" is primarily a description of dramatic forms such as theatre and film, literary works such as those of Ovid[1] and Chaucer[2] may be considered sex comedies.

Sex comedy was popular in 17th century English Restoration theatre. In the 1970s the genre experienced a resurgence with the Carry On series of movies in the United Kingdom. An American example is A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, the Woody Allen adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The British films range from comic softcore pornographic films like the Confessions series to relatively innocent comedies that include jokes about sex and other sexual related humour, like the Carry On films.


Although the ancient Greek theatre genre of the satyr play contained farcical sex, perhaps the best-known ancient comedy motivated by sexual gamesmanship is Aristophanes' Lysistrata (411 BC), in which the title character persuades the women of Greece to protest the Peloponnesian War by withholding sex.[3] The "boy-meets-girl" plot that is distinctive of Western sexual comedy can be traced to Menander (343–291 BC), who differs from Aristophanes in focusing on the courtship and marital dilemmas of the middle classes rather than social and political satire.[4]

His successor Plautus, the Roman playwright whose comedies inspired A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, regularly bases his plots on sexual situations.[5] The popularity of Plautus's comedies was a major influence on the creation of situation sex comedy.[6]

Restoration sex comedy[edit]

The sex comedies of the Restoration predated the theme of the rake in William Hogarth's painting series A Rake's Progress (third painting, 1732–35)
Main article: Restoration comedy

During the decade 1672–82, sex comedy such as The Country Wife (1675) flourished as part of the revival of theatre in England resulting from the Restoration.[7] Forerunners of the craze were John Dryden's An Evening's Love (1668) and Thomas Betterton's The Amorous Widow (ca. 1670).[8] Sexual content was favored by the presence of female performers, in contrast to the drag performances of the Elizabethan stage.[9] The main character was often a self-important rake or libertine, posturing heroically.[10] Adultery was a major theme, and the couple is sometimes found in flagrante delicto, represented by the stage direction "in disorder."[11] The plays are often characterized by sexually charged banter, "swaggering masculine energy," and a superficially innocent heroine who is nonetheless alluring.[12] This theatrical milieu produced the first woman of the Western tradition who made her living as playwright, Aphra Behn (The Rover).

Sex comedy embraces a realm of drama in which women can be contenders. The war is fought with glances and flirtations, wit and beauty, manipulation and desire. And in this battle, women often win—even if the victory is sometimes equivocal.[13]

Presenting seduction and adultery as funny eased moral anxieties that might otherwise have attached to these themes.[14] It is an open question as to whether the plays portraying libertinism endorse the lifestyle, or hold it up to satire and criticism.[15]

After the main vogue of Restoration sex comedy, William Congreve revived and reinvented the form, and bawdy comedy remained popular into the 18th century.[16]

British sex comedy[edit]

According to David McGillivray in his history of the British sex film, Doing Rude Things, Mary Had a Little... (1961) was the first British sex comedy.[17] Bridging the gap between documentary nudist films and the later sex comedies was the film The Naked World of Harrison Marks (1965). George Harrison Marks' love of music hall and slapstick found its way into this spoof documentary biopic.

The precursor to British sex comedies was Norman Wisdom's last starring role, What's Good for the Goose (1969), by Tony Tenser. He specialised in producing exploitation films and founded his own production company Tigon British Film Productions in 1966.[18] In the movie, he leaves his wife and kids to go off on a business trip and has an affair with a young girl, played by Sally Geeson[19] There apparently are two versions of the film: the 98-minute cut version was released in the UK, while the uncensored version (105 minutes) which shows nudity from Sally Geeson, was released in continental Europe.[citation needed]

Percy was directed by Ralph Thomas and starred Hywel Bennett, Denholm Elliott, Elke Sommer, and Britt Ekland. The film is about a successful penis transplant. An innocent and shy young man (Bennett) whose penis is mutilated in an accident and has to be amputated wakes up after an operation to find out that it has been replaced by a womanizer's, which is very large. The rest of the movie is about its new owner following in his predecessor's footsteps and meeting all the women who are able to recognize it. There was a sequel, Percy's Progress, released in 1974.

To move with the times, the Carry On series added nudity to its saucy seaside postcard innuendo. Series producer Peter Rogers saw the George Segal movie Loving and added his two favourite words to the title, making Carry On Loving the twentieth in the series.[20] Starring "countess of cleavage" Imogen Hassall, the story of a dating agency service is still very innocent stuff. It was followed by Carry On Girls, based around a Miss World-style beauty contest. Next in the series was Carry On Dick, with more risque humour and Sid James and Barbara Windsor's on- and off-screen lovemaking.[21]

The Confessions series[edit]

The Confessions series consisted of four sex comedy films released during the 1970s starring Robin Askwith. The films in the Confessions series—Confessions of a Window Cleaner, Confessions of a Driving Instructor, Confessions of a Pop Performer, and Confessions from a Holiday Camp—concern the erotic adventures of Timothy Lea and are based on the novels of Christopher Wood, writing as Timothy Lea.

Soon came Adventures of..., directed by Stanley Long, including Adventures of a Taxi Driver, starring sitcom star Barry Evans. Long began his career as a photographer before producing striptease shorts (or "glamour home movies", as they were sometimes known), for the 8 mm market. Beginning in the late fifties, Long's feature film career would span the entire history of the British sex film, and as such exemplifies its differing trends and attitudes. His work ranges from coy nudist films (Nudist Memories 1959), to moralizing documentary (The Wife Swappers, 1969) to a more relaxed attitude to permissive material (Naughty, 1971) to out and out comedies at the end of the 1970s. He did not like sex scenes and was dismissive of pornography, saying it didn't turn him on and he turned his back when such scenes were being filmed.[22]

Carry Ons become sexy[edit]

British sex comedy films became mainstream with the release in 1976 of Carry On England, starring Judy Geeson, Patrick Mower, and Diane Langton, in which an experimental mixed-sex anti-aircraft battery in wartime is enjoying making love not war. However, the arrival of the new Captain S. Melly brings an end to their cosy life and causes terror in the ranks.

In Carry On Emmannuelle, the beautiful Emmannuelle Prevert just cannot get her own husband into bed. A spoof of Emmanuelle, the film revolves around the eponymous heroine (Suzanne Danielle) and her unsuccessful attempts to make love to her husband, Emile (Kenneth Williams), a French ambassador. Emile grants Emmannuelle permission to sleep with anyone she likes, and her promiscuity turns her into a celebrity and a frequent talk show guest. Meanwhile, Theodore Valentine is besotted by her and wants them to get married. But Emmannuelle is obsessed with arousing her husband's sexual desire at almost any cost. This was the last of the original Carry Ons and the spirit of the carry on is only just visible.

Sleaze and sexploitation[edit]

Producer/director Kenneth F. Rowles made a copycat cash-in with his The Ups and Downs of a Handyman.[23] His next movie, Take an Easy Ride, purports to be a public information film warning of the dangers of hitchhiking but is actually a sexploitation film showing young girls being sexually assaulted and murdered (although Rowles says he had to add those scenes on request of the movie's distributor).[24]

Films like Dreams of Thirteen, The Younger the Better, Geilermanns Töchter - Wenn Mädchen mündig werden, and Come Play With Me played in Soho and elsewhere, but with the arrival of the Margaret Thatcher government in 1979 the Eady Levy was abolished in 1985, killing off the genre.[clarification needed]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Keeping the British End Up: Four Decades of Saucy Cinema by Simon Sheridan (Titan Books) (4th edition) (published 2011)


  1. ^ Elaine Fantham, "Sexual Comedy in Ovid's Fasti: Sources and Motivation," in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 87 (1983) 185–216.
  2. ^ Robert R. Edwards, "Narrative," in A Companion to Chaucer (Blackwell, 2000, 2002), p. 314.
  3. ^ Jon Solomon, The Ancient World in the Cinema (Yale University Press, 2001), p. 284.
  4. ^ Richard Hornby, Mad about Theatre (Applause Books, 1996), p. 261.
  5. ^ Robert Blumenfeld, Using The Stanislavsky System: A Practical Guide To Character Creation and Period Styles (Limelight Editions, 2008), p. 100.
  6. ^ Paul Kuritz, The Making of Theatre History (1988), p. 51.
  7. ^ Susan J. Owen, Perspectives on Restoration Drama (Manchester University Press, 2002), p. 42.
  8. ^ Owen, Perspectives on Restoration Drama, p. 42.
  9. ^ Elizabeth Woodrough, Women in European Theatre (Intellect Books, 1995), p. 16.
  10. ^ Owen, Perspectives on Restoration Drama, p. 43.
  11. ^ Woodrough, Women in European Theatre p. 16.
  12. ^ Deborah Payne Fisk, introduction to Four Restoration Libertine Plays (Oxford University Press, 2005), p. xii.
  13. ^ Ann Marie Stewart, The Ravishing Restoration: Aphra Behn, Violence, and Comedy (Rosemont, 2010), p. 96.
  14. ^ J.L. Styan, Restoration Comedy in Performance (Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 242.
  15. ^ Adam Smyth, A Pleasing Sinne: Drink and Conviviality in Seventeenth-Century England (D.S. Brewer, 2004), p. 127; Owen, Perspectives on Restoration Drama, p. 43.
  16. ^ Owen, Perspectives on Restoration Drama, p. 42.
  17. ^ David McGillivray Doing Rude Things: The History of the British Sex Film 1957–1981, Sun Tavern Fields Books, 1992. ISBN 9780951701225.
  18. ^ R.I.P. Tony Tenser « SHADOWPLAY
  19. ^ Peretti, Jacques (January 29, 2005). "Oo-er missus". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  20. ^ Mr Carry On biography of Peter Rogers by Morris Bright and Robert Ross[disambiguation needed]
  21. ^ behind the scenes of Carry Ons Cor, Blimey! at the Internet Movie Database
  22. ^ Upton, Julian. "British exploitation cinema". Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  23. ^ The Ups and Downs of a Handyman (1975) at the Internet Movie Database
  24. ^ Matthew Sweet's BBC Four documentary [British B Movies: Truly, Madly, Cheaply]