In the film Sullivan's Travels (1941), John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is a financially successful film director who wants to move away from comedic film successes (like "Ants in the Plants") and instead do sometime more significant.
He wants to direct a great depression film called O, Brother Where Art Thou? that will be a"commentary on modern conditions, stark realism, the problems that confront the average man."
As Sullivan goes about his journey in the film he discovers value in comedy, especially in the midst of hardship.
Preston Sturges' film captures a truth that I think everyone understands which is that there is a immense value in comedy.
I don't think film studios are afraid of comedy, they here comedy and they think of films that are cheap to produce with respectable profit margins. Hence we see films like Old Dogs (starring John Travolta & Robin Williams) hit theaters and despite dismal reviews the film gets wide distribution and makes it's production budget of $35 million dollars within the first 14 days of release.
Slapping the word "comedy" on a film doesn't make it funny and valuable. There doesn't seem to be a high value on comedy and I can't think of many director's who are considered "quality directors" who are in the comedic film industry.
I think the audience is interested in some quality comedy. Sure critics might be apprehensive. Award bodies may deem the product to light-weight. Talented actors might shy away for the chance to play award baity parts of prostitutes, drunks, and literary figures.
I believe audiences are open to embarrassing a comedy that can stand up the classic comedies of the past, they're just waiting for someone to remember that they're the ones who are sitting in the seats.