Rob Brunner
September 24, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Maybe it was host Chris Rock, whose withering barbs stung everything from Jennifer Lopez’s rear to Tommy Lee’s front. Maybe it was rapper Lil’ Kim’s barely legal dress. Whatever it was, it worked. MTV’s Video Music Awards — held Sept. 9 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House — scored the best ratings ever for a basic-cable entertainment show (a network-worthy 12 million viewers). It also sparked more questions than George W. Bush’s early years. So to paraphrase an old MTV slogan, I want my answers!

Announcing the Best Video of the Year award, Paul McCartney referred to Lauryn Hill as ”some guy named Laurence Hill.” Is he daft? ”I believe that was an attempt at a joke,” says MTV general manager Van Toffler. ”It didn’t really work, did it? But at this point, he can pretty much do anything and it would be okay. I don’t think [Hill] was all that pleased with his joke. I don’t think they hung out over the weekend.” Says Hill’s publicist: ”No offense taken.”

Chris Rock joked that performers Britney Spears and ‘N Sync were lip-synching. Were they? It sure looked like Spears was, but publicists for the teen sensations insist there was no such trickery. The boys were especially distressed: ”The best revenge for us is to do a parody of [Rock] in a video,” says ‘N Sync manager Johnny Wright. ”The new video is probably going to have a [Rock] look-alike in it. Payback’s a bitch.”

Who the heck were those goofballs dancing on stage during Fatboy Slim’s performance — the ones Rock delicately referred to as ”Whiteboy Retarded”? The cover story: They’re the Torrance Community Dance Group, led by Richard Koufey, a 35-year-old choreographer from the small California city of Torrance. ”They all have other jobs,” says Howard Shur, who claims he works for Koufey. ”One of them plays Wild Bill at a dinner theater.” Yeah, and Lauryn Hill’s a man. The truth: It’s all an elaborate joke. Koufey’s true identity: director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich), a noted prankster.

What’s up with Rock’s obsession with Lopez’s ample posterior? (Among other cracks, he said it required its own limo.) ”I guess I was a bit hard on her,” says Rock, ”but I love Jennifer. She is beautiful. I wasn’t anti-Lopez. I was pro-ass. Only white people think big asses are bad. They were cheering in Harlem every time I mentioned that ass.”

During the Backstreet Boys’ acceptance speech, a clean-cut man in a tux wandered on stage and said, ”Wake up at 3.” Who was this Soy Bomb wannabe? His identity’s more mysterious than AJ McLean’s facial hair. ”We’ve had tremendous speculation,” says MTV’s Toffler. ”Maybe it was the Caucasian cousin of Ol’ Dirty Bastard. We didn’t check his ID as we escorted him off stage.” So far, no one’s claimed credit.

After Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz’s sermon condemning sexual harassment, Rock made a comment that MTV bleeped out. What’d he say? Complete and uncensored: ”All right! No sexual harassment! There might not be none if Lil’ Kim put her titty away.” The MTV censors — who had a seven-second time delay — nixed the joke because of the T-word. Says Toffler: ”Don’t get me wrong, we were all crying from laughter in the truck while watching it. But we couldn’t air it.”

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