'N Sync and Fatboy Slim may have emerged the big winners at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards Thursday night, but the real star of the night — at least according to the reporters holed up in the press room — was a silly little hand puppet named "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog." Fresh from his scene-stealing, J.Lo-sniffing performance on the floor of Manhattan's Metropolitan Opera House, the Robert Smigel creation — a regular visitor on NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien — revealed to the weary media assembled backstage what the bootylicious diva said to him when the cameras cut away.

"It was a Spanish curse," he cracked. "It's a language I don't understand, but I could tell that it was vulgar." The caustic Muppet-wannabe, who already had the jaded press corps rolling in the aisles, then added: "No, she's very nice. Honestly, J.Lo rules... her butt rules. Let's face it, it's all about the butt. Have you heard her album? I think her butt actually sings on it.... I kid. I kid.

"I regret that I didn't get an opportunity to speak with Britney and Justin," he added of the allegedly celibate couple. "I would have liked to have asked Justin how he can stand not getting any."

Speaking of Gloved Ones, Michael Jackson's dramatic appearance during 'N Sync's number had people talking backstage — including Tenacious D's Jack Black. When asked what he thought of the so-called King of Pop's not-so-surprising cameo, the actor-singer deadpanned: "A shockwave was sent throughout the underground rock community." He then pointed out that D's new album hits stories in late October — around the same time as Jackson's eagerly awaited Invincible CD. "Good luck M.J.," the eccentric 32-year-old taunted. "May the best freak show win."

R&B heartthrob Usher, meanwhile, had kinder words for the pop icon. "Everything I am," he said, "is because of Michael." (Aww... )

Other behind-the-scenes highlights:

Alicia Keys, who picked up a Moonman for Best New Artist in a Video ("Fallin'"), said that she begins shooting the video for her next single, "A Woman's Worth," on Sunday. The plot? "I'm going to keep it a secret," she teased. "You'll have to tune in and see." Asked what was her favorite album of 2001, she winked: "Alicia Keys's Songs in A Minor."

Ja Rule revealed that he recently collaborated with Metallica for a "really big record. You'll be hearing about that really soon... I have to say it's crazy myself."

Mary J. Blige was asked what the inspiration was for her track, "PMS." Her reply? "PMS!" She later urged everyone to cut troubled pop star Mariah Carey a little slack. "She's a human being."

Moby — who said he was shocked to win Best Male Video kudos for "South Side" — gave reporters a preview of how he planned to celebrate. "In typical rock star style, I'm going to go out and smoke crack with hookers." He called "South Side" partner Gwen Stefani his lucky charm, adding, "Who wants to look at me on television? I'm just a little insignificant bald guy."

All told, most of the night's main attractions — Britney Spears, 'N Sync, Michael Jackson, Fatboy Slim — were no-shows in the press room. Luckily, the red carpet arrivals hours earlier satiated TV Guide Online's celebrity appetite — although things didn't exactly kick off on a promising note.

In a rather sad display, the attention-seeking casts from the current editions of MTV's Real World and Road Rules got the cold shoulder from the hungry — but apparently not starving — journalists lined up outside the Met. TV Guide Online threw the gang from RW a bone by pulling the feuding housemates aside for a few questions.

Spitfire Coral insisted that she has not read any of the nasty things being written about her on the Internet. "I don't do the Internet," she sassed. "The Internet? What's that?" (Nice try, sweetie.) Although the group appeared to be on friendly terms with each other (the exception being poor Nicole, who distanced herself from the pack), soft-spoken Malik hinted that tensions in the house "get worse before they get better."

O-Town hottie Jacob admitted to TV Guide Online that he was really hoping to meet Michael Jackson. Of course, he'll definitely see him Friday night at New York's Madison Square Garden, where the "Bad" guy will headline his first of two sold-out tribute concerts. "I'm in the 11th row," he boasted, adding that he paid "a lot" of money for the ticket. (He's the only O-Towner going.) Meanwhile, the Making the Band quintet will open for Spears during the teenyboppers upcoming fall tour. "She's like our boss," pointed out bandmember Dan. "But I don't think she's going to be setting down laws and making rules." (Yeah, right!)

Walking punchline Pauly Shore — who has kept a relatively low profile since being crucified for his short-lived 1997 comedy, Pauly — made a rare public appearance to plug his new autobiographical film, You'll Never Wiez in This Town Again. "The movie starts with my sitcom failing," he explained of the pic, which he wrote and directed, "and then my whole world goes to [expletive]."

Heavy metal group Mudvayne apparently were growing tired of answering questions about their "whole bullet in the head look." When TV Guide Online playfully asked the foursome, "Who are you all wearing tonight?" there was an uncomfortable moment of silence, after which frontman Kud revealed who designed the duds: "We did."

Saturday Night Live's Chris Kattan was talking up his upcoming Disney flick, Corky Romano. But even he conceded that the Mouse House's promo department may have gone too far by distributing special fans featuring his mug. "Seeing my face on a stick is pretty weird," he said. "I'm just glad I'm not the one passing them out." Kattan then revealed that this will likely be his final season on SNL. Said the five-year vet: "It's [just] been a while."

Wade Robson — teenage choreographer to the stars — defended the presence of cheetahs during Spears's VMA performance. (PETA pleaded with her to release the animals from her clutches.) "Anything I do is going to be very protective of animals," he said. "I would never do anything to hurt any animal." The up-and-comer disclosed that he has an album of his own in the works, but wouldn't say for a fact that Spears would be involved. Winked the young star: "We're really good friends and we work together all the time." (We'll take that as a yes.)

Also breaking news on the red carpet was TRL hottie Carson Daly, who told TV Guide Online that he just inked a record deal with Sony. "I've got my own label now," he said. "I get so many tapes from great musicians and I usually give them away to friends and then they become huge. So, I'm excited to have this opportunity."