SAN DIEGO, CA – The San Diego Chicken is an iconic mascot, a beloved fixture at Padres’ baseball games since the 1970’s, and only one man has ever donned the famous brightly colored chicken costume- Ted Giannoulas. While studying journalism at San Diego State University in March 1974, fate found Giannoulas in the form of a radio station searching for someone to don a chicken costume and hand out candy at the zoo for one week. Giannoulas agreed and as noted on his website, he “was hired on the spot with a handshake. There was no audition, no interview and no job application.” After his week was over, he volunteered at Padres’ games eventually severing his connection to the radio station and becoming the first professional sports mascot. His comedy and tremendous energy bring smiles to fans’ faces across the country regardless of their team affiliation. His classic comic antics include the Velcro bases routine and the Baby Chicks routine which still keep the fans in stitches. Giannoulas also came up with idea of using recorded pop music at the ballpark. In the past, games were accompanied by live organ music, since the organ was one of the earliest instruments that could be amplified. Since then, every sporting event uses recorded pop music to entertain fans. His dedication and work ethic have earned the respect of all mascots who followed in his large footsteps. As the New York Times reported, “David Raymond, the original Phillie Phanatic, said of Giannoulas, ‘He just created actual entertainment for the fans, and did it in a way that was just spontaneous, interactive and unrehearsed.’
Erin Blank, the owner of Keystone Mascots and a former Detroit Tigers and Washington Capitals mascot, added, “We wouldn’t be doing what we do today if it wasn’t for him.’”
Giannoulas, at age 63, shows no sign of slowing down. He continues to travel across the country, making appearances, and signing autographs for fans. He has signed over two million, according to his website. The preparation that goes into what seems so exuberant and spontaneous is actually a planned comedic performance that has been honed over time with the consummate skill of Giannoulas. His natural comedic timing and rapport with the crowd is what makes the interactive performance so entertaining.
Giannoulas who immigrated to the United States from London, Ontario, Canada, told The National Herald about his Greek roots and his late parents. He said, “My mother, Helen, who was 80, was from Athens itself, in the Palaion Faliron region. My father John, who died at 59 in 1979, was from Trikala.”
Giannoulas went on to say, “I inherited the trait of humor from my mom—who always sat me down with her by the TV for films with the Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy and other comedies. From my dad, I took his incredible work ethic as a carpenter and then later as an excellent restauranteur—probably the hardest working man I ever saw. My youngest memories of Greek heritage always seemed to involve festive gatherings of family and friends for dancing, music, food and of course, laughter. What I learned from that upbringing was a simple value: no laughs, no life. Upon reflection, the adults were all proud immigrants who arrived by boat, yet humbly respectful of their new adopted homeland as well. In my irreverent work and career, I merely try to channel the spirit of a smile as a cartoonish reminder that sports are just a game to be enjoyed by all who gather to watch them.”
As the Times reported, Giannoulas is unsure about the future. With thoughts of retirement looming, he may appoint a successor or retire the character he originated. His wife Jane told the Times, “For over 40 years, every single thing you planned and every single ounce of energy you have goes to something — and then you suddenly get to have your own life. It’s a whole different life. It’s a whole new world.” So far, the San Diego Chicken is still going strong. Giannoulas noted in the Times that the crowd gives him life “and I give them back a few laughs.” His live shows continue to delight fans. With performances at more than 8,500 games, never missing one due to illness or injury, and more than 17,000 parade, trade show, banquet, convention, TV and radio appearances, the San Diego Chicken is a legend among mascots. It’s hard to imagine the Chicken ever retiring.