There are several things from the first COVID lockdown that should never exist outside of quarantine. These include, but are not limited to, work Zoom quizzes, taking photos of people socializing outside then posting them to Twitter with the caption, “Look at all these selfish assholes,” conversations about your homemade kombucha and, of course, Tiger King. The latter has become particularly insufferable since its premiere in March 2020, simply because it’s inescapable. The wildly popular Netflix docu-series has been milked for two more seasons and a special, at least four documentaries (including one by Louis Theroux), a limited series, a memoir and literally any merch item you can think of. This insatiable appetite for more Tiger King content has pushed many of us to the brink of sanity, and there’s no better example than the people who are selling condoms with Joe Exotic’s face on them for $1,000 online. Allegedly, people are buying them, too.
“If anyone can find a link to Joe Exotic’s condom for sale, I will not only be your new friend, but I may also give you one of the condoms,” redditor Niccolaio wrote after the show premiered two years ago. “I didn’t know where else to turn. I know you can do it. Please, I really want one framed in my house.”
Another user, Astrophsx, said they tried to buy one of these coveted condoms on eBay, bidding $520. However, speaking to me via DM, they reveal that they never actually got hold of one. (If Astrophsx had been willing to spend more, they could have bought “one unopened Joe Exotic campaign condom… in perfect condition” for a cool $1,000 from redditor MiserableBuy9, who, it’s worth noting, got downvoted for this offer.)
The official condoms appear to come in two kinds. The first was tossed into crowds by Exotic at his 2016 presidential campaign rallies, and features his face above the words, “For your protection, vote Joe Exotic.” The other seems to have been given to visitors at Exotic’s zoo, Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma, and is emblazoned with a photo of Exotic and one of his tigers, alongside the label “Tiger King Premium Condom.” At the time of writing, there’s one of each type for sale on eBay, both available to buy now for $200.
Twenty-six-year-old Garrett from Dallas acquired his Joe Exotic condom in 2015, when he visited the G.W. Zoo. He was studying at the nearby University of Oklahoma, and had heard of Exotic’s zoo from his friends, who gushed about being able to play with baby tigers there. “When we got there, we walked into this grungy shack to check in, [before being] sent to a stage area where Joe came out and gave us a little show with one of the tigers,” Garrett recalls. “You could tell that he loved the attention and knew how to work a crowd. After he finished, he came around and chatted with people. He tossed his condoms out and told us to vote for him in the 2016 presidential election.”
Five years later, and Garrett is thrilled he kept hold of the condom. “I thought it was so bizarre and definitely didn’t want to use it,” he says. “I thought it would be a funny keepsake, and now here we are! Who knew it would be this big of a deal.” Although he hadn’t thought about selling it before, Garrett says he would definitely consider it, adding, “No telling how much it’s worth now.”
Thirty-two-year-old AC Facci, on the other hand, says they would never sell theirs, “even seeing how much they’re going for on eBay.” “It’s a memento from my time working in Oklahoma politics,” they explain. “Lots of candidates give away funny or odd items during campaign season — so when I got one, I didn’t think too much of it beyond [it being] goofy candidate memorabilia that matched a similarly goofy gubernatorial candidate.” Facci got their Joe Exotic condom in June 2018 at a Tulsa Pride Parade. Even before Exotic ran for Oklahoma governor, and long before Tiger King premiered, Facci knew who Exotic was. “He’s the kind of local legend who’s hard to miss, especially because of the numerous scandals,” they explain. “He was very intense, but also listened and took people seriously at candidate events.”
Unlike Garrett and AC, 25-year-old Toby (not his real name) from Texas actually used his Joe Exotic condom. He was given it by Exotic in July 2015 at G.W. Zoo, and kept it because “it made [him] laugh.” “I didn’t know he was famous until the show came out,” he tells me. “At the zoo, he just gave it to me and said, ‘You might need this one day.’” Many fans will likely be disappointed (but unsurprised) to hear that the actual Joe Exotic condom is just a regular condom — though Toby can’t recall what brand it was. When I ask how his girlfriend reacted, he says he actually never told her it was a Joe Exotic-branded one. “I didn’t have any other option,” he explains. “But I definitely laughed at myself before using it.”
There were also unofficial Joe Exotic condoms, like the ones sold by London-based online retailer Firebox. These featured an illustration of Exotic and a tiger, and were called “Joe’s Exotic Condoms: Big Cat Protection.” Although Firebox’s marketing executive Andre Mattiuzzi says the condoms were reasonably popular — approximately 30 condoms were bought per month for six months, though the product got around 3,000 page views a month — they haven’t become a collector’s item in the same way. “The series was a meme powerhouse,” says Mattiuzzi, “and many people used our products to have fun and express how much they were into Tiger King when the whole thing became a hit.” Firebox sold other novelty Tiger King merch, including a puzzle and a strawberry and rhubarb vodka.
After achieving little success in his 2016 run for president, Exotic (who didn’t respond to my request for comment) switched up his tactics when he ran for Oklahoma governor in 2018, and added branded rolling papers to his merch collection (Facci got some of these, but says they “didn’t stick around” in [their] collection). For those looking to get their hands on the rolling papers, you can currently buy them alongside a Seth Wadley cap — as worn by Exotic in Tiger King — on eBay for just $375. Redditors have previously posted about the skins alone selling for $50.
Although Exotic’s smoking paraphernalia and condoms sadly didn’t win him the title of president or governor, putting his face on contraception did, as Twitter user @GlamandGore pointed out, do more for “birth control than abstinence.” That is unless, like most Exotic fans, you framed the condom instead of using it.