Contra Costa Times
Pigmeat Markham Review 2002

January 25, 2002
Section: TimeOut
ONE HAND CLAPPING
SMALL THEATER SOMETIMES HAS BIG REWARDS
PAT CRAIG, TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are few nicer ways to spend an evening out than heading over to the city and attending a first-rate show, followed by dinner in a fancy restaurant. For most of us though, what makes an evening like that so special is its cost -- with show tickets pushing $80 and dinners costing roughly the same as a used car, it just isn't something you can do frequently.

But if you're willing to forgo some of the luxuries -- no, wait, all the luxuries -- you can still have a great evening in San Francisco, see some riveting theater and come home with most of your paycheck intact. You just have to forget the valet parking, the fine linen and velour and rococo theatrical ambience.

What  prompts all of this are a couple of shows I managed to see in the past week or so -- Oui Be Negroes, a sketch comedy group performing in a small theater/gallery on 19th Street near Mission..

Most impressive was Oui Be Negroes (OBN), performing "Pigmeat Markham, Thanks for Everything, Spike Lee," a series of sketches built loosely around a party where Lee is expected as the guest of honor. Outside of that it has little to do with Lee, or even Pigmeat Markham, a black entertainer who reached the height of his mainstream fame in the late '60s when his "Here Come the Judge" routine was adopted as a running gag by the "Laugh-In" television show.

In the skewed world of OBN (Jivoni Jordan, Shaun Landry, Ronnie Ray, Stan Stone and Hans Summers, the only white guy in the ensemble, and co-founder of the group with his wife, Landry), Santa Claus has retired, and his work has been taken up by Markham. Suddenly, Jordan emerges in judicial robe and wig to do a bit of the "Judge" routine, setting the tone of silliness for the evening. The sketches are generally strong -- particularly a breathtakingly funny, plain language preacher explaining the Ten Commandments -- and, like good topical comedy, they have no single ax to grind.

The group also has an improv portion of the show, where topics range from Enron to crack cocaine, and a few moments of poignancy, handled with a touching bittersweet humor by the group.

Most of the members are out of Chicago's Second City troupe, and their style and attitude, not to mention their threadbare theater, is reminiscent of the legendary San Francisco sketch and improv group from the '60s and '70s, The Committee. Here's hoping OBN will find a permanent home in the Mission. The "Pigmeat Markham" show runs at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 9 at Spanganga, 3376 19th St., San Francisco. Tickets cost $12 and may be reserved by calling 510-763-5870.