The hidden tastemakers: Comedy scouts as cultural brokers at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Sam Friedman
2014 Poetics  
Responsible for selecting which new artists are brought to the public attention, talent scouts carry considerable influence in framing performing arts fields. Yet their practices are hidden from public view and how and why they select fledgling producers remains unexplored in cultural sociology. This article aims to demystify the work of such gatekeepers by examining temporary comedy scouts operating at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The Fringe is the world's biggest arts festival and a central
more » ... tradefair for the British comedy field. Drawing on ethnographic observation and interviews with nine comedy scouts, I examine the positions they occupy in the comedy field and, in turn, how this positioning affects which comedians they propel. I then interrogate the brokerage enacted by scouts. Centrally I argue that while some broker between artists and management, all scouts are implicated in mediating between artists and audiences. In particular, they act to intensify comedy taste boundaries, making judgments based on assumptions about imagined audiences and directing more legitimate comedians to privileged audiences and vice versa. In this way, scouts act as hidden tastemakers, intensifying the scarcity of certain tastes, and strengthening the ability of privileged audiences to use comedy in the claiming of cultural distinction.
doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2014.04.002 fatcat:vjrmfyid45b67dgbq7zkiu5dru