Audiences flock San Diego's Famous Chicken
As part of his routine, the Famous Chicken walks onto the field to help the umpire take a load off during inning break. He offers the umpire some water from a bottle and spit it in the bucket. However, after the third time, the umpire elects to spit it in the face of the chicken.
The crowd cheered and chanted "Chick-en! Chick-en!" Meanwhile, Ted Giannoulas slipped into his costume and planted his yellow-beaked feathered mask onto his head. He climbed in the giant egg, and the truck holding him lumbered across the infield.
Giannoulas emerged from the egg, and the crowd went wild, a symbol of his future career as the Famous Chicken.
That day in 1979 seemed to prove the value of a charismatic mascot. When Giannoulas reappeared at Padre Stadium in San Diego, he said his presence drew 32,000 extra fans. Since then, he has seemed to perfect the art of slapstick comedy in over 8,000 professional performances.
"I am a freelance mascot, and I have traveled all over the world," Giannoulas said. "I used to perform 250 times a year, but I've cut down since 1998, and started to review and reuse my routines."
While Giannoulas used to travel and perform all year round, he now limits himself to 50 dates a summer. He married 11 years ago and says family responsibility has become a priority.
Despite his early instant success, Giannoulas did not begin his career as a comedian. He signed up for the one-week job simply to make money during his stint at San Diego State University. While dressed up in the neon yellow chicken suit, he handed out candy as promotion for the KGB radio station. Although he hoped to be offered a position with the radio company, Giannoulas instead excelled as a feathered mascot.
"I tried to show them (KGB) my work ethic, to get a job there, but they liked my chicken antics more," Giannoulas said. "It turned out well, because the one-time deal turned into a lifelong passion for me."
Giannoulas learned his trade by studying comedians and actors he saw on TV and in movies.
"I really admired Jackie Gleason, who played Ralph Kramden from the Honeymooners, and Steve Martin ," Giannoulas said. "I learned from their humor and adapted their material to being a mascot."
Giannoulas dances with ballplayers, films commercials and interacts with fans and even the opposing team's mascot.
"I respect and have enjoyed working with the Kansas City Royals' mascot--the Slugger," Giannoulas said. "One time he asked me if I wanted to sit on his shoulders and throw peanuts to the crowd. I thought it was a great idea at the time. And it was fun until the crowd closed in on us and we nearly had to fight our way back onto the field. We took a few hits and nearly fell but we made it out without breaking anything."
Giannoulas dances with a young lady that came out of the crowd and onto the ballfield. She was one of many to dance with the Famous Chicken. Later the dance was capped off when an elderly woman came out with a walker to dance and threw it aside.
Giannoulas' interaction with people fuels his passion
"People often ask me, 'why did the chicken cross the road?'" Giannoulas said. "I always reply, 'to get to the land of stupid questions.'"
The chicken's bright and cumbersome physique often places Giannoulas in disturbing situations. While facing off against professional wrestler Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota and navy seal, Giannoulas frustrated him with his antics so much, Ventura began to chase him around the ring, swearing to rip his head off.
"I kept away and eventually he was penalized for leaving the ring too long," Giannoulas said. "I won the match. Sometimes being goofy pays off."
Giannoulas advises students to represent their school by interacting with the crowds while remaining enthusiastic and appropriate.
"Mascots need to keep a positive energy level, and have fun with the fans," Giannoulas said. "They should also avoid interfering with the game, and scaring little kids."
Campus mascot Phillip Unruh, '07, views Giannoulas' experience as motivation to better his performances.
"The San Diego Chicken has been my role model ever since I read about him in the paper," Unruh said. "The level of fame and skill he has achieved has motivated me to perform better."
This summer Giannoulas will visit the Chico State Outlaws and the Reno Silver Sox college teams and then begin a circuit of professional baseball teams, among other appearances.
For more information concerning Unruh's mascot experiences, read the May 17, 2007, article, Mascot retires, search begins.