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At the AEE Show: thin line between provocative and verboten has been carefully straddled

LAS VEGAS – With the red carpet, swank ball gowns and hang-around rock musicians, the Adult Video News Awards could almost fit seamlessly into the cavalcade of nonstop honor fests that come around this time of year.

Likened to the Oscars and flashy like the Grammys, tonight’s extravaganza at the Mandalay Bay has one key difference: the Academy Awards, at least as of yet, do not have a category for Most Outrageous Sex Scene. The adult industry’s blowout fete features all the trappings of its mainstream cousins but still retains a bit of the outlaw flair that makes it enticing to legions of consumers.

Though Paul Fishbein, president of Chatsworth-based AVN and creator of the 24-year-old awards, invited celebrities like Gene Simmons and sold tickets to the general public for the first time this year, he doesn’t want to fully strip off the veneer of mystery of the porn business.

“We don’t want it to be too mainstream because you take the sexuality out,” Fishbein said. “We want it to be a little forbidden, like, `Oooh, it’s the porn awards, but there’s going to be some famous people there.”

Former Red Hot Chili Pepper Dave Navarro will present, while rock group Buckcherry, who Fishbein repeatedly notes has been nominated for a Grammy, will perform.

And the talent itself, with names like Jenna Jameson, Tera Patrick and Ron Jeremy, is getting pretty familiar in many households.

That thin line between provocative and verboten has been carefully straddled for several days at AVN’s Adult Entertainment Expo, not far down the Las Vegas Strip at the Sands Expo Convention Center. A hybrid trade show/consumer showcase, the convention drew tens of thousands from around the world, saying shocking things in a fairly innocuous setting.

At Patrick’s Thursday night shindig at the Tao nightclub in the Venetian casino, co-hosted with her husband and co-performer Evan Seinfeld, photographers jockeyed for arrival shots just as they would at the Golden Globes or a Hollywood premiere.

The stars showed up in revealing evening wear, but when one suffered a bit of a wardrobe malfunction and found herself spilling from her tight pink dress, two harrumphing handlers quickly stepped in to instruct her to button up before she got in trouble. She apologized profusely and strapped herself back in as the cameras continued to click.

The party inside was loud and mysterious, filled with sexily dressed young women, but it was no stranger than the scene in a Friday night Hollywood dance club. Dustin “Screech” Diamond, the child actor turned sex tape star, was sighted chatting amiably at the bar.

The four days of prep work, inking distribution deals, smiling for the press, chatting with fans, culminates tonight with the show.

Fishbein expects the 2,000 tickets made available to the public for $100 apiece will sell out, further broadening the industry’s appeal.

He said while larger companies like Vivid Video and Wicked Pictures probably don’t need an award to boost their sales, a smaller studio or nascent performer can receive some measure of credibility once they take home a trophy.

“I don’t take too much stock in the awards, but if I did win, more people would know about me,” said Sasha Grey, an 18-year-old performer nominated for the coveted Best New Starlet award.

In the porn world, as well as the mainstream, this is a very big deal. Jameson and Patrick both won the title in years past and went onto become titans of the business. Their looks and onscreen enthusiasm pushed them to become wealthy, marketable stars who can just as easily appear in regular television and films as they can with their clothes off.

“I get embarrassed. It’s like, `You like that? Really?”‘ said Jesse Jane, [pictured] a contract star for Van Nuys-based Digital Playground and past winner for an all-girl sex scene and presenter at this year’s show. “It’s funny, though. Everyone pretends like they don’t want to win, but I think they really do.”

Indeed, agreed Oren Cohen, president of Van Nuys’ Tight Fit Productions. Though the heavily-tattooed former chef, a third-generation pornographer, has plenty of uncomplimentary things to say about his industry, he still grins about the awards.

“Every kid likes getting a (freaking) trophy, so I like that pat on the head,” he said. “You gloat, advertise you won and enjoy it for a year. We’re making a product for people to enjoy, so it’s nice to get a little feedback that they do.”

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