Despite sustained philosophical attention, no theory of humor claims general acceptance. Drawing on the resources provided by intentional systems theory, this article first outlines an approach to investigating humor based on the idea of a comic stance, then sketches the Dismissal Theory of Humor (DTH) that has resulted from pursuing that approach. According to the DTH, humor manifests in cases where the future-directed significance of anticipatory failures is dismissed. Mirth, on this view, is the reward people get for declining to update predictive representational schemata in ways that maximize their futureoriented value. The theory aims to provide a plausible account of the role of humor in human mental and social life, but it also aims to be empirically vulnerable, and to generate testable predictions about how the comic stance may actually be undergirded by cognitive architectures.
In 2017, Steven Gimbel published Isn’t That Clever: A Philosophical Account of Humor and Comedy. This book proposes, among other vastly interesting notions, a definition of humor that eschews audience reactions in favor of focusing exclusively on the craft and intention of the responsible comedian. This article intends to provoke that definition and show why humorous performances cannot be crafted without an audience-centric mindset, proving Gimbel’s notion problematic at best. To poke this definition, I draw on the American Folk Humor tradition and compare its historic roots with modern tourist attractions that on the surface appear to channel its spirit. These include the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue dinner show at Walt Disney World and The Brewery Follies at Virginia City, Montana. After showcasing the differences between these modern performances and the tradition they pretend to espouse, I conclude that Gimbel’s theory cannot account for the evolution of a funny genre.