Protection for the hip-hop crowd

Kenny Condom hopes to raise awareness about sexually transmitted diseases among African-Americans who can't relate to Trojan Man.

March 28, 1999|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Staff

Kenny boldly made his professional debut earlier this month during "Homicide Live," an annual charity performance featuring cast members of the Baltimore-based TV drama.

The Center Stage audience watched as actor Clayton LeBouef (stiff-necked Colonel Barnsfather on "Homicide") teased the crowd with a poster of Kenny. But Kenny looked hauntingly like Casper the Friendly Ghost. Was this a joke? After all, the whole evening offered "Homicide" characters playfully acting out of character.

But Kenny is no joke. Kenny could, in fact, become the latest and hippest name in condoms. Kenny Condom: Not Your Father's Condom!

LeBouef and his brother, Thabit, a Washington-area entrepreneur, have launched a home-grown AIDS public awareness campaign featuring the one and only "Kenny Condom." Their idea is to market a younger, hip-hop name in condoms. The point, Thabit says, is to appeal to African-Americans who can't relate to condom characters such as Trojan Man.

"To my people, that's corny," says Thabit, referring to the Trojan condom radio ads featuring "Trojan Man," who sounds like Dudley Do-Right as he interrupts a couple on the verge of coupling.

"My main concern is that condom companies aren't gearing advertising to us," Thabit says.

So, from his office in Takoma Park, Thabit hatches up Kenny Condom merchandise ideas and slogans, such as "Without Kenny, You Ain't Getting Any" and "Kenny Says Use Condom Sense." A clothing line called Kenny Condom Gear is in the works. It would feature caps and nightshirts with pockets to hold a condom. Even pillow cases with storage pockets are imagined. And a Kenny Condom Web site is inevitable.

Thabit also is working on a Kenny Condom "claymation" video he hopes the Black Entertainment Network might notice. And in loftier dreams, he'd love to somehow attract the attention of Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill. If Hill were to endorse Kenny Condom, Thabit believes, no kid on the street would think condoms uncool or embarrassing.

But if teen-agers don't think Kenny Condom is cool, then they won't stick around for any serious message.

"Once he's hip, then you can drop in information," says Clayton LeBouef -- information about unwanted pregnancies, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases -- issues that are particularly relevant in the black community, he says.

For his part, LeBouef plays the spokesman for his brother's brainstorm. (Look closely in a future "Homicide" episode; a Kenny Condom poster might be pinned up on a set.) But LeBouef also has contributed something more concrete to the Kenny campaign -- or rather something porcelain.

LeBouef noticed a "Say No to Drugs" message printed on a urinal screen in a restaurant's restroom. He passed along his discovery to his brother, who went to work marketing Kenny Condom on urinal screens. Now some are actually in use at a few restaurants in Washington, and will be coming soon to Baltimore.

"There's no running from the message. There's no way of getting around it," LeBouef says. Plus, the Kenny Condom sticker is fluorescent!

"It glows," Thabit says.

So far, except for the urinal screens, the other Kenny Condom products are still on the drawing board. There's no actual Kenny Condom on the market. Thabit needs to persuade a condom company to adopt Kenny. He's working on it.

The time seems prime for a concept like Kenny Condom. The government reports that teen pregnancies continue to decline nationally. In Baltimore, the teen birth rate has fallen for six consecutive years, city health officials say. Increased use of condoms, along with decreased sexual activity among teens, has helped drive down the overall teen birth rate, the government has reported.

"We can't wallow in our successes," says Dr. David Rose, the city Health Department's assistant commissioner for communicable disease and epidemiology. Any marketing campaign that promotes condom use is welcome in Baltimore, Rose says.

In short, the city wouldn't kick Kenny Condom out of bed.

"The idea is cool," Rose says.

Cool enough, perhaps, to reach beyond teens to the rest of Baltimore, whose high rate of sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis and gonorrhea became a national joke last year. Before a national audience, Tonight Show host Jay Leno flashed a photo of a fake billboard that read: "Welcome to Baltimore, please put on your condom now."

Who knows -- one day Baltimore might be putting on a Kenny Condom.

Pub Date: 03/28/99

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