First off, how does it feel to be in the company of “Who shot JR” and The Disco Demolition game at old Comiskey in terms of being the centerpiece of a massive pop culture moment of 1979-1980 with the “Grand Hatching” of The Famous Chicken at Jack Murphy Stadium in the summer of ’79?
It feels pretty good because it’s really a testimonial to the humor and levity we possess in our country, then and still today. What’s remarkable with any success I’ve enjoyed is that my appearances didn’t come with structured PR campaigns of large media networks. Rather, it grew organically by word of mouth among people at events and manifested itself.
You took the role of a mascot to an entire different level with amazing physical comedy, was that planned or did it just evolve into that?
The act evolved into humorous athleticism and physicality. It was originally designed to be nothing more than a walkabout billboard for a local rock ‘n roll radio station. But, on my own, I decided I could lure added attention from the fans by outlandishly goofing in the grandstand.
That format brought much laughter and eventually it was the Padres who suggested I improvise some antics on the field. Their vision worked as it filled boring inning breaks with special amusement for fans and inherently became an attendance draw for the team.
Some of your routines involved a lot of dancing…you can move…were you a dancer before you were a mascot?
No, I never was professional dancer, but I could always move to music. I was coordinated otherwise as an athlete, having played lots of hockey as a goalie and plenty of pick-up baseball games.
Does it piss you off or does it flatter you, the amount of people blatantly ripping off The Famous Chicken moves and bits?
Yes, it can be disappointing, especially whenever broadcasters may highlight a bit and call it clever for the mascot when, in fact, I personally devised it for my own purpose. By the same token I suppose, stand-up comedians have expressed similar frustrations whenever their material is appropriated by others.
Can you tell us something about The Famous Chicken we may not know?
As Chicken, I’ve actually introduced a few innovations to sports that have become staples in game entertainment to this day.
In addition to being the first full time pro mascot, I was the first fan ever allowed to initiate sketches on field with players. While there were a few sports clowns dating back to the turn of the 20th century, they were former players. But I came out of the grandstand with the fans.
I was also the first to bring recorded rock music to stadiums and arenas on a regular basis for inning break and time-out interludes. This was an innovation to better accompany my antics as opposed to the usual house organ at the time.
Can you tell us something about Ted Giannoulas we may not know?
Playing Chicken is the only career I’ve had. My previous job experiences came in college as a dishwasher and busboy, that’s it.
Did you ever get any push back, especially from big leaguers when recruiting players to join in your entertainment bits?
Over the decades, I’ve received very little push back from big leaguers overall. It’s been pleasantly surprising how many of them (and umpires, too) not only get involved to make audiences—and especially kids—laugh, but have proposed ideas for me to try.
Still, there are always a few who carry a game face, both on the field and off. It’s unfortunate at times but academic, since every game has 50 players to work with anyway.
Give us a funny “inside story” about one of your appearances please.
I played Cupid one night for an umpire.
During the 80s while performing at a Padre game, a (now late) veteran umpire at first base called to me during play while I was in grandstand nearby. At the inning break, I hopped the rail and visited him. In approaching, he extended a handshake and as I reached for it, there was a folded note in his palm which he slipped to me.
As I then improvised a spontaneous gag to cloak the exchange, he requested that I visit a particular seat behind home plate and deliver the message for him.
I followed his directive and found an attractive lady there. I handed over the note to her surprise and laughter. She was an acquaintance of the umpire and his note expressed a fondness for her and confirmation of their dinner plans afterwards.
It’s proof—before texts, life had its creative fun.
Did your professional travels ever bring you to wonderful Kenosha, WI?
Yes, I’ve played Kenosha several times at old Simmons Field throughout the 80s and early 90s. The sellout crowds there were always raucous and fun.
Is The Famous Chicken still an active mascot?
Yes, but at this stage, I’m in semi-retirement. I may make occasional appearances at ballparks, social events and for media invitations, but I no longer schedule national and global tours that would keep me on the road 250 days annually.
Last question, you were a first ballot “Mascot Hall of Famer” …two things, 1. I get the Phillie Phanatic going in with you, he created the Mascot HOF, but The Phoenix Suns Gorilla?? First Ballot?? Really? 2. That HOF is in Whiting, IN, why was East Prairie, MO too busy to handle the people flow?
Honestly, of all the times I’ve been honored, there are two that truly standout. One was when the editors of the Sporting News voted to included me on their list of The Top 100 Sports Figures of the 20th century—a list that includes The Babe, Ali, Gretzky, Jackie Robinson, Lombardi and more. Wow.
The other is the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I’m not inducted, but for years they’ve had my costume beautifully mounted and glass encased on display there. To be showcased in the shadows of the game’s greats is mind-boggling for a former dishwasher.