This week's Black History Month Forgotten Comedian is none other than Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham.
Though best known as a comedian, Markham was also a singer, dancer, and actor. His nickname came from a stage routine, in which he declared himself to be "Sweet Poppa Pigmeat." He was sometimes credited in films as David "Pigmeat" Markham.
He was born in Durham, North Carolina. His family was the most prominent on their street, which came to be called (and later officially named) Markham Street. Markham began his career in traveling music and burlesque shows. For a time he was a member of Bessie Smith's Traveling Revue in the 1920s. Later, he claimed he originated the Truckin' dance which became nationally popular at the start of the 1930s. In the 1940s he started making film appearances. In 1964 he recorded "Open the Door, Richard".
Markham was a familiar act at New York's famed Apollo Theater where he wore blackface makeup and huge painted white lips, although some complained this vaudeville tradition was degrading. He probably played at the Apollo more frequently then any other performer. Starting in the 1950s Pigmeat Markham began appearing on television, making multiple appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show.
His boisterous, indecorous "heyeah (here) come da judge" schtick, which made a mockery of formal courtroom etiquette, became his signature routine. Markham would sit at an elevated judge's bench, and deal with a series of comic miscreants. He would often deliver his 'judgments,' as well as express frustration with the accused, by leaning over the bench and smacking the accused with an inflated bladder-balloon. He had hit comedy recordings in the 1960s on Chess Records, and saw his routine's entry line become a catch phrase on the Laugh-In television show, as did his phrase "Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls".
(I know... the jackass that made this YouTube video stuck a picture of Nipsey Russell in as well... I don't know about the rest of you, but Dewey Markham and Nipsey Russell look NOTHING alike... twenty bucks says some white guy made this video, and well, since we "all look alike" it was only a given that something like that would happen.)
Markham's most famous routine was 'discovered' by the general public only after Sammy Davis, Jr. had performed it as a guest on Laugh-In. Due to the years of racial discrimination in the entertainment world, he was not widely known by white audiences, and had almost exclusively performed on the "chitlin' circuit" of vaudeville, theatres, and night clubs, and appeared in several race films, including William D. Alexander's 1949 revue film Burlesque in Harlem, which documented the chitlin' circuit.
The success of Davis's appearance led to Markham's opportunity to perform his signature Judge character during his one season on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Archie Campbell later adapted Markham's routine, performing as "Justus O'Peace," on the country version of Laugh-In, Hee Haw, which borrowed heavily from the minstrel show tradition.
Thanks to his "here come da judge" routine, which originally was accompanied by music with a funky beat, Pigmeat Markham is regarded as a forerunner of rappers. His song "Here Come the Judge" peaked at number 19 on the Billboard and other charts in 1968. He published an autobiography, Here Come the Judge!, in the wake of his Laugh-In success.
Markham died of a stroke at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx at the age of 77. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
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See you tomorrow.