Now, for something completely different, here’s a story about farting. Yes, it’s a real gas. But please don’t think me an uncultured oaf. Au contraire, mes amis, au contraire! I am simply — and 100% accurately — reporting on a cultural phenom by the name of Joseph Pujol who took Paris by storm at the turn of the last century as a professional farter and entertainer!
His skill was such that Le Pétomane, for that was his stage name — combining the French verb “to fart” with the French word for “maniac” — commanded a salary second only to Harry Houdini at Paris’ famed Moulin Rouge.
A Real Gas
The man’s name: Joseph Pujol (June 1, 1857 – August 8, 1945). Born in Marseilles as one of five children, Pujol served in the military and then worked as a baker where he amused fellow soldiers and bakeshop customers with his ability to move air into his rectum and then control the release of that air with his anal sphincter muscles to make funny sounds.
This “skill” led him to Paris and eventual success, where he eventually earned a staggering 20,000 francs a week, outearning every performer in Europe except Houdini.
Appearing on stage in a full tuxedo, cape, and white gloves, Joseph would smoke cigarettes out his rear end and make thunderclap noises and cannon fire sounds.
His act also included blowing out candles from several yards away, playing a stirring farting flute rendition of the French national anthem, and then, for the grand finale, ending the show with a five-minute farting rendition of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
No Business like Show Business
Adoring audiences sang along to songs played in his farting flute routines. And if that wasn’t enough, he also played “‘O Sole Mio” on an ocarina through a rubber tube in his anus.
Among the who’s who of the time who came to see him were Edward, Prince of Wales; King Leopold II of the Belgians; and Sigmund Freud.
And in the category of “too much information:” Pujol proudly proclaimed that his farts were odorless, thanks to a controlled food regimen and daily colonics.
While, alas, there are no sound recordings of Pujol’s performances, the Edison Company did produce a film in 1900.
And in the many years since Pujol’s passing (gas), his fame has lived on. For example, Mel Brooks’ Governor in Blazing Saddles was named Le Petomane — without the accent mark.