| Biography Of The Famous Chicken
Talk about an Only in America success story, one has to look no farther than--of
all things--a guy who dons a chicken suit for fun and notoriety.
The Famous Chicken, also known commonly as The
San Diego Chicken, has reached icon status as a sports
and entertainment personality throughout the nation and the world. In his element as an outrageous comic actor, he's as unique
and gifted a humorist as any stage has ever seen.
Perhaps in another era, the role of The Chicken could've been played
by Harpo Marx, Peter Sellers, Andy Kaufman or other physical comedians. Still, there'd be debate if even those comic greats
could've pulled off the live performances in a real world setting that Ted Giannoulas crafts
every night he covers himself in costume.
Unlike Hollywood or Broadway, Ted's Chicken comedy sports shows are high
risk improvisations during actual games among a supporting cast of non-actors, with no script, no rehearsal and no second
takes. And all of this takes place
|before an audience of
thousands, plus live broadcasts.
No safe and cozy studio for Giannoulas. His sketches draw on slapstick, parody and
visual antics, all woven throughout interludes of ballgames, much to the surprised delight of sports fans. For an athletic
industry in a rising tide of
|bluster, attitude, arrogance and
human chemical alterations,here is Ted Giannoulas and his comic musings in a chicken suit--perhaps the last voice left--to
remind us that, indeed, it is just a game after all.
His impact is such that The Sporting News editors named him as one of The Top 100 Most Powerful People in Sports of the 20th Century. He's on a list that includes Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth, Jesse
Owens, Pete Rozelle, Ted Turner and Wayne Gretzky among others.
The Chicken character has transcended into a virtual
folk hero who, as one Washington newspaper editorialized, "wonderfully fills a jester's role, mocking both substance and ceremonious forms, parodying the
powerful and cavorting with utter irreverence."
Ted is the new vaudevillian and his appeal has spawned a mascot cottage industry, for better or worse. Costumed creatures
now abound in sports, business, schools and charities. In fact these days the Olympics and World Cup
events even hold ceremonies
to unveil their new characters. Yet, in the time of BC--Before Chicken--there were
Giannoulas' debut came with no grand plan, no Madison Avenue input, no coaching and no expectations. It was only
about a college kid who needed a job. In fact, it was only about a San Diego radio station who needed a college kid who
|needed a job.
They found each other by fate the day before spring break in March, 1974. On the campus of San Diego State, a representative
from a rock 'n roll radio station arrived to find anyone who'd agree to wear a rented chicken suit for a promotional gimmick.
It was just a one week, temporary job offering to visit the local zoo and giveaway candy Easter eggs. The pay was $2 an hour.
rep, from KGB radio, descended from a hallway upon a small group of students to mention what he was looking for. "Anybody want to do it?" he asked. By happenstance, Giannoulas was there and shrugged, "Yeah, sure." Ted was hired on the spot with a handshake. There was no audition, no interview and no job application.
"Just show up," he was told.
After his stint at the zoo was completed,
Giannoulas saw an opportunity and volunteered to attend Padre games in costume as the station's furry ambassador--an unheard
of idea at the time. For Ted, it was just his hopeful plan to get into a ballgame for free. And just like that, sports entertainment
marketing was introduced
to the fan.
Ironically, KGB could've auditioned the entire town and still not have discovered that inherent combination
of special traits Giannoulas brings.
He is unprecedented in his work ethic, has a miraculous tolerance for a heat
stress environment to go with his impromptu comedic skill and combines it with
the game. His act has earned him some heady reviews. In the San Diego Union, the
late and legendary sports editor Jack
Murphy wrote, "The Chicken has the soul of a poet. He is an embryonic Charles Chaplin
in chicken feathers."
Sporting News said, "In show biz, they call his kind 'Show Stoppers.' In baseball,
The Chicken is a game stopper. They might even consider him for stopping wars."
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer stated, "The Chicken is the brightest and one of the most ingenious entertainers ever to grace the sports scene."
Time Magazine offered, "More than anything else, baseball should learn to peddle the real nostalgia--Jackie Robinson breaking
the color barrier, Lou Gehrig's farewell speech and the first appearance of the San Diego Chicken."
Stone magazine simply headlined him "The Legend," while others have named him, "the Sir Lawrence Olivier of mascots."
Giannoulas parlayed his one week gig into a five year run with KGB, in the process making
it the most storied promotion in radio history.
As a performer at large, his goofy doings included over-the-top station
giveaways with tons of watermelon delivered to beach sites in refrigerated trucks, concert tickets handed out on the streets
in the parks, among other promotional adventures. His tenure featured two generations of costumes. The first, a rental
from a defunct, local shop was a horrid, rag tag thing, adorned with paper mache head and a heavily padded body of red cloth
zig zags to emulate feathers. Novelty amusement aside, the contraption was known to spook children.
a different styled outfit was made which proved to be the catalyst for the character. It was lighter and brighter, enabling
Ted to become nimble and animated among the crowds like never before. The Chicken seemed like a cartoon come to life.
only did he bring this new found energy to sporting events, he also carried on crazily at rock concerts. He was even invited
to make spontaneous appearances on stage with marquee rock acts of the 70s and 80s. He jammed in the spotlight with Jimmy
Buffett, Paul McCartney, Sammy Hagar, J. Geils Band, George Thorogood, The Ramones, Doobie Brothers, Cheap Trick, Chuck Berry,
|Lewis and dozens more.
Most notably, one night in 1976 at an Elvis Presley concert, The Chicken's dancing escapades in the aisles of the
San Diego Sports Arena actually stopped The King in mid song, doubled over in hysteria!
After composing himself, the
surprised Elvis joked aloud to his sold out audience if his manager, The Colonel, could make use of The Chicken. Eventually,
as the years progressed, Giannoulas' growing career ambitions conflicted with the station management's policies.
much ballyhooed impasse ensued. With
attention focused on the situation, KGB unceremoniously fired the fowl in May, 1979 and went to court to block Giannoulas'
right to work in a chicken costume. But the California Supreme Court instead went on to rule in Ted's favor and declare him
to be a free as a bird of any ex-employer obligations.
June 1979 brought a new beginning. The Chicken returned big
time. It was a glorious and elaborate entrance in a 10 foot styrofoam egg, complete with Highway Patrol motorcade escort,
atop an armored truck before a Padre game.
Upon being lowered onto the field by the players themselves, with the blaring
music of the 2001 theme, The Chicken crashed out of the egg to a standing ovation of 47,000 people. "The Grand Hatching" not only symbolized a clean break with the past with Ted debuting his new outfit (the one he
still wears to this day), but the event itself has been cited by baseball historians as one of the
|greatests public relations
spectacles in the game's history.
Giannoulas has since accommodated amazing invitations to perform near and far. He
has visited eight countries, four continents and all fifty states. Moreover, he has played to more than sixty million people
in live attendances--a feat which
|ranks with the likes of the Rolling
Stones, the Grateful Dead, Willie Nelson and the late Bob Hope. And like Bob Hope, The Chicken has even been summoned in the
company of United States Presidents.
In May 2001, The Chicken was asked by President Bush to perform at the celebrated,
first T-ball game at the White House, broadcasted live on C-Span by Bob Costas. In addition, years earlier, both President
Reagan and President Ford had The Chicken help introduce them at public events from the podium.
It's not a bad calling
for Giannoulas, a former student dishwasher and immigrant from London, Ontario, Canada. Yet under those feathers, he has single
handedly introduced new concepts, ideas and formats in helping to present a game as entertainment.
For example, as
well as being recognized as the first professional sports mascot, he pioneered the idea of using popular recorded music at
games. Before The Chicken came onto the scene, all professional games only featured live organ music. Today, soundtracks which
are featured as so-called "stadium
|rock", have their roots
from The Chicken's act in the 70s.In addition, Ted was the first in daring to use a game's time out breaks to take to the
field or court and ply his comedy gags for the waiting audience.
Today, look at any NBA game which has every time
out filled with some kind of activity, act or contest. For decades before Ted came along, believe it or not, audiences would
sit and gaze at an empty
|basketball floor or ballplayers
routinely warming up during downtime.
This trailblazing bird was also the first mascot to be included in an actual
baseball card set. His 1982 Donruss card marked the first time in sports history that a fan, albeit dressed unusually, had
been honored in any collection. By popular demand, Donruss repeated the process in their 1983 and 84 sets, plus an additional
card in the Triple Play series a few years later. Meanwhile, the Upper Deck Company followed up by including The Chicken on
Cecil Fielder's card from a comedy bit he was involved in at a Tiger Stadium game.
On television, he was the first,
and still only, mascot to be interviewed on national talk shows with Tom Snyder and then David Letterman. Giannoulas has guested
on several TV series, but notably starred with baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Bench on The Baseball Bunch. For five summers
during the 80s, it was a heralded kids' show about a group of "Bad News Bears" types who were visited by big league stars
for baseball advice each week. The show won 3 Emmy awards.
There have also been dozens of commercials for Dr. Pepper,
McDonald's, Nike, FTD Florists, Sports Ilustrated and more, including an ESPN spot with tennis great Pete Sampras. Yet, Ted's
most lauded acting engagement may have
|have been his cameo role
in the cult film classic, Attack
of the Killer Tomatoes--affectionately hailed as
the worst movie in the history of celluloid. In it, The Chicken is called upon by the town folk as the saving hero to lead
the charge against an invading swarm of tomatoes.
Still, The Chicken's career staple has been his live shows. He has
performed at more than 8,500 games and amazingly, has never missed one due to injury or illness. Moreover, he has more than
17,000 total appearances when parades, trade shows, banquets, conventions, TV and radio dates are factored in.
the most extraordinary of Giannoulas' achievements may not be that well noted on the national radar screen and
|understood only to those
who have attended his live performances. After every game, The Chicken will sit and sign absolutely every autograph request
at no charge. No one is ever turned away, often averaging 90 minutes.
His autograph lines are longer than the wait
for any ride at Disneyland. The Chicken's most extreme stay was after a Texas Rangers' game when the line went until 2:20
in the morning in 90 degree heat. It's estimated that Ted has signed his signature more than two million times for sports
That's exhibit A in a salute to the unique act of The Chicken. The San Diego Union once said, "It's nice to know that in a world buffeted by inflation and
nuclear accidents, we can still laugh at the ridiculous and appreciate the sublime--which is the state Ted Giannoulas sometimes
approaches with his comic act."
is the jester among the jerseys. He is what everyone wants him to be, prancing in a spiritual space on a creative odyssey.
Or to put it simply, he plays the class clown for all those who wish they never grew up.