Sweet Poppa Pigmeat

Pigmeat Markham - World's Greatest ClownWhen you read “pigmeat,” you probably think of bacon–the breakfast meat or Kevin. But today’s funny name is no strip nor link nor patty; today we discover comedian, singer, actor, and dancer Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham (April 18, 1904 – December 13, 1981). And yes, there is “ham” in his last name. Can you ever have too much pork?

Born in North Carolina (a state famous for pulled pork), his nickname came from a stage routine, in which he declared himself to be “Sweet Poppa Pigmeat.”

Incidentally, if you were wondering what his Bacon number was (the degrees of separation from his movie career to Kevin Bacon’s), it’s 3.

Pigmeat began his career in traveling music and burlesque shows, running away from home at the age of just 14. He took up with a white showman referred to as “Mr. Booker” who “came over to us before the show with a can of Stein’s burnt-cork and showed us how to put it on in front of the mirror.” After working in a “gully” (girly) show, he toured across the South with carnivals and medicine shows. 

According to Last Man in Blackface: The World of Pigmeat Markham by Kliph Nesteroff:

Pigmeat adopted a variety of monikers, including David Markham, Dewey Markham, Dewey Alamo, Black Rock or Rock Markham. “Pigmeat,” it has been said, was slang for “young stuff” – as in “jail bait.” He settled on the handle after performing in Gonzelle White’s Traveling Show. The name Pigmeat was…the name of a character in one of the comic skits. Markham took it with him when he left; and he took it into the big time.

The “big time” included becoming one of The Apollo’s most frequent performers. In the 1940s, he started making film appearances.

In the 1950’s, Pigmeat performed his “Heyeah (here) come da judge” signature routine on Ed Sullivan’s show. Mocking the formal courtroom atmosphere, Pigmeat would sit at a judge’s bench (in a black graduation cap-and-gown), and pass down “judgments” on criminals. Frustrated with the accused, he would often lean over the bench and smack them with an inflated bladder-balloon.

judge

I know. That sounds super crazy.

“It’s a real bladder,” Pigmeat explained. “Someone at a slaughterhouse picks them up for me. I tried many things, but this is the only thing that gives me that real good sound when it crashes on someone’s head.”

Pigmeat’s daughter Kathy admitted, “He would bring several bladders home, soak them in water overnight, grease them up with Vaseline. [He] had a pump contraption that inflated the prepared bladder.” (http://blog.wfmu.org/).

Ew.

Pigmeat’s most famous routine was “discovered” by the general public after Sammy Davis, Jr. performed it as a guest on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In television show. Soon his routine’s entry line become a catchphrase on the show, as did his phrase “Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls.” Ironically, most white audiences had been unfamiliar with Pigmeat until then, as he had almost exclusively performed on the “chitlin’ circuit” of vaudeville, theatres, and night clubs. Chitlins=pig intestines=more pork. My apologies to any vegetarians.

 
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30 Responses to Sweet Poppa Pigmeat

  1. Dave says:

    Running off to class (not literally running), but you had me at the first paragraph! Will be returning for bacon and Bacon and pigmeats!

  2. Liz says:

    sweet poppa, that’s awesome. Anything food-related works for me. Never heard of this guy and I appreciate your introducing us. A comedian from a different era. Nice work with the pork puns 🙂

    • kerbey says:

      So glad it wasn’t a boar!

      • Dave says:

        You can be such a ham sometimes!

      • Dave says:

        Why did the oncologist make bacon out of neoplastic cells? ….

        Because he wanted to cure cancer!

        [crickets]

        Haha, I feel like my humor is getting more obscure by the year. But hopefully this bodes well for my heme/onc final tomorrow morning!

        • kerbey says:

          And what could be more fun than oncology? I would rather you cure cancer than bacon, but both would be best.

          • Dave says:

            I agree.

            The great thing is that we’ve actually found cures for some cancers!

            It’s just that “cancer” isn’t one thing – we used to classify cancers by the organ (kidney, brain, skin, etc.) but now we’re realizing that a “skin” cancer could be many different molecular events – a mutation of a protein that normally controls progression of the cell cycle, a deletion of genes that help repair DNA, etc.. The great news is that for some cancers, we’re very good at treating and eliminating them. The not so great news is there’s still more work to do!

          • kerbey says:

            I am sure you all can use your smarts and technology to discover new frontiers!

  3. Great post, Kerbey. I’d never heard of him before. Just so you know, I nearly lost my coffee when I read, “Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls.” I might just have to do that. 😉

  4. Benson says:

    Wow. I heard of Pigmeat Markham a long time ago from some of the older men I knew. Didn’t he have some bawdy LPs? Good memories.

  5. markbialczak says:

    I never knew that Sammy Davis Jr. was ripping off Pigmeat’s trademark routine, Kerbey. That bums me out. He sure did get a whole lot of mileage out of it back in my Wonder Bread years, as did the hosts with the Funk & Wagnall’s line. I hope they gave old Pigmeat some greens for his creative work.

  6. ksbeth says:

    i really can’t judge his name as my nickname is ‘peaches.’ i feel we are kindred spirits of sorts.

  7. Rio says:

    I have never heard of him! I went and listened to the “Here comes the Judge” recording. LOVE IT! Good laugh this morning. Thank you!

  8. wdydfae says:

    Here come the judge! What a blast from the past! I never knew the back story.

  9. mistermuse says:

    I don’t know if you’ve done a post on him, but another famed (and defamed by some as an “Uncle Tom”) black comic actor with a funny name was Stepin Fetchit (real name Lincoln Theodore Perry). If you’re not familiar with him, you might want to check him out – his is a most interesting story.

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