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Room for whatever

Times Staff Writer

The 5-year-old rapper in the “Free Kobe” T-shirt and heavy silver bling-bling around his neck abandons Pac-Man to sing along to 50 Cent and hip-hop around the pool table like the little pro dancer that he is. Men and women mingle on the leather couches, talking shop, sipping cocktails and nibbling on sushi rolls. Near the bar, singer Michelle Branch is cozying up to her small posse, feeling content, as if she were at a friend’s house party.

But Branch and what feels like about 100 other guests are actually getting down at “Club Kimmel,” the nickname for the “greenroom” at ABC’s late night talk show, “Jimmy Kimmel Live” -- by far, the hippest celebrity waiting room in Los Angeles.

“When you do other shows, people are really on top of you and only want you to be in the dressing room,” said Branch, 20, after performing on Kimmel’s show recently. “This is like a hang. It’s like you’re in somebody’s living room.”

In fact, everything about the Jimmy Kimmel show, which is taped live at El Capitan Entertainment Center, feels that way. From Uncle Frank, the favorite security guard who is actually Kimmel’s uncle, to the fully stocked open bar and food spread in the lounge -- uh, greenroom -- the Kimmel set is mostly about kicking back among friends. As to those watching from their living room, the show is averaging 1.7 million viewers and doing best among men ages 18 to 34.

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Since the show began airing in January, the clubby greenroom has become an intensely popular scene with celebrities and hip industry insiders jockeying for a position on the guest list. On this week, Kimmel’s co-host is Lil’ Maxso, the youngest rapper in the world and center of attention in the greenroom, where the only thing that manages to distract him from Pac-Man and pinball is the hip-hop beating from the speakers.

“Sometimes we have better guests in the greenroom than on the show,” says Kimmel, who admits he doesn’t spend a lot of time in the room because he’s not much of a club guy. “I just think it’s nice for our guests to have a protected environment in which to enjoy themselves. We have more fun around here than Chuck E. Cheese’s.”

The 88-capacity two-room area, which includes plasma TVs, a billiards table, video games and a pinball machine, was designed for guests of the show and their guests, as well as agents and publicists.

Access is by invitation only, which means the staff is flooded with requests, especially on nights when there are big-name musical stars like Snoop Dogg or Marilyn Manson.

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“We let our guests get their people in here first, and then we look at the requests and build from there,” said talent booker Lisa Simpson. “People are shocked when they see this so they want to come back and bring more people. People actually stand in line like this was a club. To get on the list, you just have to know who to go to. For those who know, they know.”

One well-known model apparently didn’t. When she showed up at the gate on a popular night and couldn’t get in, she pitched a fit. Friday nights are the most in demand because of musical acts, like Interpol, who perform mini-concerts on the outside stage, a spot that’s open to those who’ve snagged a seat in the show’s audience.

“There have been some really coveted nights,” said 27-year-old Carrie MacFadden, an ABC Family Channel field coordinator, who was unable to party in the green room with Jane’s Addiction or the Foo Fighters.

“It was just impossible. But once you’re in here, it’s so different from the dingy morbid nightclubs in L.A. It’s a very positive atmosphere with a hip undertone. It’s the best place to go to enjoy yourself and not deal with the Hollywood attitude.”

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Typically, the backstage waiting areas for celebrities are far from memorable -- more of the small room with a television set, fruit and vegetable platters and bottled water variety. Some rooms like the one for “The Donny and Marie Show” on the Sony lot drew extra visitors with its catered food. “But it didn’t have liquor nor did it have this kind of a feel,” said a game-show publicist and veteran greenroom surfer who asked to remain anonymous.

“The morgue. That’s what other greenrooms are like,” said filmmaker and reputed mobster Danny Provenzano, who recently discussed his imminent five- to 10-year prison term on racketeering charges with Kimmel on camera.

“It’s such a cool vibe in here,” said Provenzano. “Look at it. They’re giving me liquor right before I’m going on national television. As a guest, to be able to hang out with people before I go on, it revs me up and gets me going.”

Executive producer Daniel Kellison wanted to create an environment that would pump up celebrities appearing on a show that tapes at 9 p.m. for a live East Coast feed -- a start time much later than most late-night shows, which usually tape in the afternoon. (The show airs locally just after midnight.)

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“We had to think about how we could get publicists, managers and agents to come out in the middle of the night,” Kellison said. “So we decided to create a fun space, with alcohol, that would be like a club where friends invite their friends.”

The idea was also to get guests comfortable before they hit the stage and ready for Kimmel’s high-energy style. The show itself is geared to appeal to a trendier set, who appreciates its “anything goes” quality and has followed the comic from his days on the politically incorrect “The Man Show.”

As word of the greenroom got around, celebrities who weren’t on the show started showing up. “It’s been great,” says Kellison. “People get on the tables and dance. There’s always some hooking up going on, and we’ve always got some cabs ready.”

On the show’s first night, when Cold Play performed, the room was so packed that the pool table was knocked over, and bartenders couldn’t keep up with orders, said 23-year-old Hunter Tallman, a frequent greenroom guest.

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“It’s mellowed down a lot,” Tallman said.

Except on a recent night, when actor James Woods signed an autograph at the thong line of a staffer who was wearing low-rise jeans, and then posed for a Polaroid of his face with the signature and shared it with the show’s audience.

“This is like the VIP room of a bar but people are actually having fun here,” said 27-year-old actor James O’Shea, another regular greenroom guest.

“At a bar, people are trying. Besides, what bar can you go to where you can hang out with Lil’ Maxso?”

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*

‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’

When: ABC, Monday-Friday,

12:05 a.m., show tapes at 9 p.m.

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Info: Free audience tickets call (866) JIMMY-TIX or go to abc.abcnews.go.com/primetime/jimmykimmel


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