All Keyed Up

This is the comedy-club rule: Sit up front, and you can expect to get fucked with, at least a little bit. Plus, when you roll on any club with the bisexual Ashanti of P-town lookin' fine in a low-cut, form-fitting, red satin top, it's like wearing a raw T-bone as a loincloth and running nekkid through a kennel of pit bulls. You literally have to beat the dawgs off with a stick.

So when the J-girl and I park ourselves up front at HYB Entertainment's latest contribution to PHX nightlife, Showcase Sundays at Jackson's on Third in downtown Phoenix, I should've figured we were in for some attention from the host of the weekly event, actor/comedian Pierre (, star of such films as B*A*P*S, How to Be a Player and The Wash, as well as HBO's Def Comedy Jam and BET's Comic View. First up, Pierre kindly points out that New Times is in the house, which earns us a round of applause. But when I tippy-toe back to the bar to snag a couple more cups of liquid refreshment, playa Pierre makes his move. He asks the J-licious One about her ethnicity, then wonders if she's with boyfriend -- the idea that she might have a girl-friend never occurring to him.

"Not just one," replies Jett, coolly, "but several."

"Several?!" exclaims the Sinbad of Sunday nights. "Well, damn, where do I get in line?"

Pierre plays at standing in a queue, ticket in hand, a line many in the audience -- both male and female -- would no doubt like to join. The crowd, including the Jettster, chuckles, but ol' Pierre turns somewhat more respectful as I return with our drinks.

"Is this your boyfriend?" he inquires, indicating yours truly -- Ali G-meets-Ruben Studdard.

"We're work partners," I respond.

"Mmm-hmm, that's how those things start," he says, wagging his finger.

Oh, don't I wish, P-unit! To steal a line from Reverend Jesse, I keep hope alive, as well as a jimmie-hat in my wallet, in case Jett takes pity on this fat boy one day. (Sigh.) But realistically, I'd be better off playin' Lotto . . .

Pierre's soon back into his hi-larious opening monologue for what is essentially the closest thing there is in town to "Showtime at the Apollo." It's an old-school talent competition, open to everything from juggling to rapping, with the audience determining the winners. Up to eight contestants are accepted each week, and you're given about three to five minutes to do your thing, whatever that might be. But beware: If the crowd's not feelin' your performance, you get "keyed" off right quick. See, at Showcase Sundays, folks jingle their car keys instead of booing your sorry ass like they do at the Apollo. There's no Sandman Sims here with a broom to dance you into oblivion. The DJ just plays "Hit the Road, Jack," and that's it. At the end, the audience picks two acts from the survivors to return at a later date for the semifinals, and a chance at winning more than $2,500 in cash and prizes. (Those interested can peep the official rules and even sign up at

"I have a good relationship with HYB, and I was looking to buy some property in Phoenix," Pierre explained to us after the show. "Once I was here, a lot of people were asking me, ÔWhere are you performing?' So I thought about getting a night together like this, so I can tell people where I'll be at. There's also a lot of talent out here, and this gives them an opportunity for exposure."

All the contestants this night are either rappers or soul and R&B singers, and the first to step to the mic up on a low stage in one corner of the club is an MC by the name of Judge Jones. Dressed in a yellow jersey and baseball cap, Jones announces to the crowd, "Get ready to get crunk!" then launches into a Dirty South-style, Petey Pablo-esque delivery. The key chains stay in pockets, and the Judge makes it to the end of his performance. Same goes for Soul Ghetto, a four-man troupe, stylin' in flashy zoot suits, who sing a cappella about "Every day feelin' new/Ridin' down 27th Avenue."

Next comes soul diva Natasha, who's decked out in a sheer, see-through black shawl, with a black brassiere underneath. She belts out a sultry tune about food and sex that asks, "Do you want gravy on your collards and greens . . . on your black-eyed peas?" before ordering her lover to "feed it to me." Sounds better than a bottle of Viagra and a plate of shucked oysters. Natasha gets a big hand, then Pierre jumps onstage and jokes around with the crowd, telling them, as he's light-skinned, that he's "white from the wallet up and black from the waist down." He then states he prefers black ladies, cheezin' that, "You won't catch me with a white girl. . . . Doesn't mean I won't get with her, you just won't catch me."