The Famous Chicken

By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

The Famous Chicken is the most famous costumed mascot in sports history, with a career so good and important that his costume is now part of a traveling exhibit for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Famous Chicken
The Famous Chicken has been entertaining baseball fans for the past 29 years.
This is the Chicken's 29th year in feathers, and he's saying it might be his last. With that in mind, Page 2 spoke with the Chicken (a k a, Ted Giannoulas) to record his thoughts about his movie career, his rivalry with the Phanatic and why he can't get a gig in Boston.

1. Page 2: You started out as the KGB Chicken with a San Diego radio station, and they tried to stop you from going out on your own. How did that turn out?

The Famous Chicken: It's part of California state law now, KGB vs. Giannoulas. They tried to sue me on the grounds of "intellectual property," like you can have intellectual property of a guy in a chicken suit. I prevailed. The courts made me a free-agent chicken.

2. You're known for baseball and sports, but you also did a lot of concerts when you were with KGB. Who did you appear with?

TFC: As the Chicken, I emceed the Ramones. I did J. Geils Band, the Doobie Brothers, the Beach Boys. Foghat. George Thoroughgood. Sammy Hagar. Sammy called me up and said, "Ted would you join me for an encore during my concert?" I said sure. He said, "I want you to join me on stage, but will you do me a favor and sign an autograph for my 3-year-old first?"

3. Are there any venues you haven't played?

TFC: Yankee Stadium. I've played Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium, but the Yankees don't have a sense of humor. I haven't done Fenway, either. They're afraid the fans would say, "What the hell is this? You're desecrating Fenway." Actually, Boston is the only city I haven't worked for any of the teams.

4. Is there a venue or city you hate playing?

Phillie Phanatic
The rival Phillie Phanatic hides a dirty little secret about the Chicken.
TFC: I've gotta say Philly. Philly and South Jersey. That corridor of fans there, they're a hard sell. They try their best to hold in their laughter. They can't do it, but they feel some sort of loyalty to their local character. Philly will never let me in, because they know I'd steal the thunder of the Phanatic. I could sell 60,000 tickets like that. But they don't want me because I'd steal that guy's thunder. The dirty little secret of the Phanatic though is that when they started him in the winter of 1977-78, the director of promotions called me up and said, "Ted, how do you do it? We want to start a new character, and we'd like you to consult with us." They called me 10 times that winter to consult.

5. How is it that you wound up appearing in the movie, "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"?

TFC: That's probably my biggest regret. They wanted me to be the movie's star, and I turned them down because I was too busy. So I only did the cameo. I told them, "Folks, I'm all backed up. I can't do it." I told them I had a Thursday afternoon opening, and they said, "OK, we'll do the stadium climax scene that day." They shot the whole thing in about two weeks. I wish I could go back and change that decision. I wish I had said to hell with it, I'll do the movie.

6. What are the worst injuries you've had?

TFC: Two occasions. I was doing a pratfall in Atlanta before the game where I rode in on a cart, and I told the guy to make a sharp turn and I'll do a pratfall. I did, and I separated my shoulder. It hurt like hell, but I did the show. Skip Caray was doing the broadcast and he said, "I don't think that chicken's left wing is moving that well." He had a sharp eye.

Famous Chicken
When Ted Giannoulas retires, there will be no more Chicken. "I'm not a department store Santa Claus," he says.
Then at a St. Louis Blues game I was doing a Zorba the Greek thing down the stairs, and I missed a step and tumbled to the glass and broke my foot. The crowd thought it was part of the act and went nuts. I thought it was just a bruise, and I kept doing the act for a couple weeks. But it didn't get better, and I went to the doctor, and he said I had a hairline fracture and had to have a cast. I kept the act going though. I did it in a cast.

7. How long have you been doing that baby chick routine, and do you ever get tired of doing it and want to drop it from the act?

TFC: I've probably been doing that for 12 years, and when people laugh like that, you don't give it up. They want it, they love it, they demand it. I've had people get irate when I didn't do it. They'll say they drove 50 to 100 miles to see me, and then I didn't do their favorite bit. I'll say, "I did it last time," and they'll say, "So what?"

8. What are some funny stories involving that bit?

TFC: A couple weeks ago, I had a big strapping player in Grand Rapids come up to me and introduce himself. It was Matt Boone. I said, "Oh, you're one of the Boone brothers. It's nice to meet you." He said we had already met: "I was one of the baby chicks once." He had done it when his dad was playing, and he went up and patted him on the butt when he was catching. Just wait until he makes it to the majors, and they show that clip on the board.

9. You've said this might be your last year. Would you ever franchise out the character and let someone else be The Chicken?

TFC: No, that would be it. I'm not a department store Santa Claus. That's the biggest obstacle I face -- fans don't believe I'm the only one who has done it. I've had players come up to me and say, "I had the Chicken bite my head years ago." I'll go, "Yeah, I know. That was me."

10. Which superpower would you most like to have, the strength of 100 men, the ability to fly or the ability to turn invisible?

TFC: Oh, fly. That would be great. What an entrance that would be.


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