Early Black Comedians
Album cover for Jackie "Moms" Mabley, Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham's bestselling 1967 record.
Though he began his career in blackface, Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham lived long enough to see his nonminstrel
work appreciated. Markham—who some sources claim ran away to join the circus at age thirteen—made a name for
himself on the Chitlin' Circuit, the famed black entertainment tour that produced stars such as "Moms" Mabley,
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and "Ma" Rainey, performing in various vaudeville, minstrel, and stand-up
routines in the early 1900s. Markham's career spanned six decades, but it wasn't it until Sammy Davis Jr. copied
a routine of his on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, in 1969, that he attracted the attention of white audiences. The
skit, "Here Come de Judge," was a fan favorite of Markham's and had been developed in the 1920s. In it, a
comically inept "judge" portrayed by Markham would dispense outrageous verdicts (and quips), inspired, according
to the music historian Bill Dahl, "on the outlandish racism African Americans often faced in court, particularly from
judges in the southern United States at that time." Markham, who died in 1981, was a prolific entertainer, having
participated in practically every medium of the twentieth century: movies, television, recordings, and live performances.