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Oh, the Fun! ‘Watch What Happens Live’ Returns to L.A. with NeNe Leakes & Lena Waite

*NeNe Leakes and Emmy Award-winning writer Lena Waithe (“Master of None,” “The Chi”) stopped by the Watch What Happens Live clubhouse in L.A. on Sunday, where they dished with host Andy Cohen in front of a packed crowd of 1,300 onlookers at the Wiltern theater.

“It’s so much energy,” Cohen, who also serves as an executive producer, said backstage a few hours before showtime. “Listen, we have about 30 people in our audience in New York. To be able to fill the Wiltern Theatre with really passionate fans of the show, it’s huge.”

Future clubhouse guests include Milo Ventimiglia (“This Is Us”), Ricky Martin (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”), Anna Farris (“Mom”) and rapper Snoop Dogg.

“We are like an exotic import in Los Angeles,” said Cohen, who has been out West a lot in recent weeks to lock in his hosting gig on the second season of Fox’s “Love Connection.” “They never see us. So they get excited when we’re here.”

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Writer Lena Waithe plays a game onstage during the taping of Bravo’s popular talk show “Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen” at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Tonya Sparkman and Liz Geavaras were part of the crowd aiming for good seats.

“It’s the hottest ticket for us,” said Sparkman, who lives in Orange County. “I got tickets for tomorrow and [Liz] got us tickets for tonight. That’s how important this is. If we could, we’d be at all the shows this week.”

“We like how Andy interviews,” added Geavaras of Los Angeles. “His guests say things you don’t hear them say anywhere else.”

Another fan, Tommie Williams, 33, who had driven in from Mission Viejo, said: “Andy is so shady, and he’s always asking the questions I want to hear answers to. My favorite guest was Regina King because she got so lit.”

As noted by the Los Angeles Times, ‘WWHL,’ which launched in 2009 to little fanfare (and an equally little set, known as the Bravo Clubhouse), has twirled into a key player in the late-night arena, attracting A-listers such as Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Lawrence.

“I’ve been doing ‘Watch What Happens Live’ since the year it started,” Leakes said backstage before the start of the show. “It’s always an amazing time — drinking is key. But it’s grown a lot. When it first started, it was a very small room, almost a closet. And now, in New York, he has a much bigger space and a larger audience — not that much larger. But, you know, we can actually sit down; we used to have to stand up. Shade, Andy. Shade, honey.”

Audience members watch a taping of “Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen, ” Bravo’s popular talk show, at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The California “clubhouse,” decked with a ‘Bravowood’ sign backdrop, features staples of the show’s New York set — such as the stuffed bunny from “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”; bobbleheads of Cohen’s parents, Lou and Evelyn; and a stuffed animal version of his dog, Wacha.

“I’ve seen ‘Watch What Happens Live’ a lot,” said Waithe, who is also a regular viewer of “Real Housewives of Atlanta.” “Andy is like a pro at this. He has that special sauce about how to get folks to be themselves, to be free, to be funny, to be silly, to say things they wouldn’t normally say on another late-night show.”

Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen” airs at 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday on Bravo.

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