in America, as Chicken beats Barney
- By Will Lingo -
no longer fear that the year 2000 will bring apocalyptic horrors
to our beloved civilization. My faith in humanity has been restored.
Barney has been defeated.
case you missed it, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided
in July that Barney was an annoying dinosaur who needed to lighten
up. That wasn't the exact phrasing, but that was the gist of
it in Baney's case against the Chicken.
You know the Chicken, also known
as the San Diego Chicken or the Famous Chicken. He's been entertaining
fans in ballparks for years, and he's actually funny.
You also probably know Barney. He's the smiling purple dinosaur know for singing, "I love
you, you love me," and spouting inane platitudes at America's
And if you've seen the Chicken
in recent years, you've seen him do a skit with a Barney lookalike. It starts out as a dance contest, one that Barney actually wins,
but degenerates into a fight between the two. The Chicken gets
the better of that battle.
"It's just a little Three
Stooges slapstick parody," The Chicken said. "It's
not like I was setting him on fire. But the Barney people found
out and got all bent out of shape. "
Once Baney and his people, the
Lyons Partnership, got wind of things, they took the Chicken
to federal court to try to make him stop.
Given that Stevie Ray Vaughn was
struck down while Michael Bolton continues to caterwaul for
album after album, and given that "Homicide" got cancelled
by NBC while "Suddenly Susan" returns for another
stellar season, it's reasonable to think that Barney would win
Not this time. Federal courts
ruled twice that the Chicken was engaging in nothing more than
parody and could keep stepping on Barney's head in ballparks
from coast to coast. Not only that, but Barney has to pay the
Chicken's legal fees as well.
"(The Chicken) was not merely
profiting from the spectacle of a Barney lookalike making an
appearance in his show, " the court wrote in it's opinion. "Instead, he was engaged in a sophisticated critique of
society's acceptance of this ubiquitous and insipid creature. "
God Bless America.
Chicken is one of the things that makes America great, an original
that sprang not from some company's marketing department but from
a weird combination of inspiration, desperation, imagination and
of course, perspiration.
It all started in 1974, when Ted
Giannoulas was a student at San Diego State and KGB radio in San
diego needed a student willing to wear a chicken costume for two
bucks a day. Giannoulas took the job and handed out candy Easter
eggs to children as they came into the San Diego Zoo.
After that part of the job ended,
Giannoulas asked if he could wear the costume to Padres games. He saw it as something fun and a way to get into games for free. The radio station and the Padres said it was fine, and our culture
is richer for it.
The Chicken started working in the
stands and ended up on the field, and then on fields across the
"There was no grand plan," Giannoulas said. "I
talk to mascots today who put up these grand plans without testing
their audience first. It was the laughter from the grandstand
that basically carried me on the field. "
These mascots today. Most of them
are pale imitations of the animal who inspired them all. And don't
even get me started on Myron Noodleman.
Giannoulas says that a problem he's
noticed with minor league team mascots is that the same person
doesn't stay in the costume for very long, and those who do step
inside don't know enough about the game. Part of what makes
the Chicken good is that much of his humor actually plays off
"I usually try to do a sketch
or two with the home mascot, and it surprises me how many don't
know first base from third base," he said. "I tell them
to meet me on the third-base side after the fourth inning, and
they say, 'Where is that again?' That makes you think for a moment. "
The only minor league mascot Giannoulas
has seen that stands out for him is Henry the Puffy Taco in San
Antonio, a worthy choice indeed. "The fans really rally behind
this waddling taco," Giannoulas said.
No one has captured the imagination
of baseball fans like the Chicken, though. And though his bread-and-butter
is the American minors, he works many other places as well, including
the Latin American winter leagues. He counts Mexico as one of
his favorite places to perform.
"It's nuts in Mexico,"
he said. "It's like they think I'm a walking pinata. They
really have a sense of fun down there. By the end of the last
game I worked down there, you had thousands of people chanting
'Pollo! Pollo! Pollo!"
Mascot Hall Of Fame
It's safe to assume that thousands
of people have never voluntarily chanted "Barney! Barney!
Barney!" Especially not in a ballpark setting. So the only
place Barney could hope to take on the Chicken was in a courtroom.
He should have known better, though. The Chicken had already won his previous court battle, against
KGB. When Giannoulas sought more control of his burgeoning career,
KGB not only fired him but also filed a lawsuit to keep him out
of the Chicken suit forever.
Giannoulas won and in an elaborate
ceremony that many of you might remember, was re-hatched before
a sellout crowd in San Diego in June 1979. He wore a redesigned
costume that has changed little to this day. That was the third
generation of the Chicken outfit: the first was a haphazard cloth
affair with a papier-mache head, followed by the KGB costume,
followed by the current model.
Not that he still wears that
costume, of course. Giannoulas goes through three or four costumes
a year, thanks to the wear and tear from all of that physical
comedy, and yes, all that sweat.
"I swear I must hold the world
record for most sweating by one person is a lifetime," he
said. "It's probably 125 degrees on an average work night,
but it's second nature now. "
And now one of those sweaty costumes
is actually going to the Hall of Fame. Giannoulas says Hall of
Fame curators have asked him for one of his costumes so they can
set up a display honoring mascots. Needless to say, it's the first
time a masvot has been so recognized by the hall.
It's every American's dream. Work
in ballparks, see the country, get paid for it and end up in the
Hall of Fame. Granted, not many people could follow Giannoulas'
exact path, but it shows that with hard work and inspiratioin,
anything is possible.
And you can step on Barney, too.