Farting, guffing, trumping, parping, letting loose the goose, opening the fridge, looking for ducks, carpet bombing, the silent but violent, the deadly cushion creeper, the brompton, the ripple, the rapple, the bandecoot…the names we give to the act of breaking wind tell you everything you need to know about their place in our sense of humour. Around the turn of the last century a Frenchman,, Joseph Pujol, took it to another level. He’d developed (or maybe just been born with) exceptional control of his abdominal and rectal muscles, and used them to great effect. Known as Le Pétomane (which combined the French verb péter, “to fart”, with the -mane, “-maniac” suffix, which translates to “fartomaniac”) he became the wolrd’s most famous flatulist, farteur du jour, chief fartiste at the Moulin Rouge night club in Paris. He wasn’t farting, incidentally, as it wasn’t intestinal gas.
Soon after he left school he had a strange experience while swimming in the sea. He put his head under the water and held his breath, whereupon he felt an icy cold penetrating his rear. He ran ashore in fright and was amazed to sense water pouring from his anus. A doctor assured him that there was nothing to worry about.
When he joined the army he told his fellow soldiers about his special ability, and repeated it for their amusement, sucking up water from a pan into his rectum and then projecting it through his anus up to several yards. He then found that he could suck in air as well. Although a baker by profession, Pujol would entertain his customers by imitating musical instruments, and claim to be playing them behind the counter. Pujol decided to try his talent on the stage, and debuted in Marseille in 1887. After his act proved successful, he proceeded to Paris, where he took the act to the Moulin Rouge in 1892.
Some of the highlights of his stage act involved sound effects of cannon fire and thunderstorms, as well as playing “‘O Sole Mio” and “La Marseillaise” on an ocarina through a rubber tube in his anus. He could also blow out a candle from several yards away. His audience included Edward, Prince of Wales, King Leopold II of the Belgians and Sigmund Freud.
In 1894, the managers of the Moulin Rouge sued Pujol for an impromptu exhibition he gave to aid a friend struggling with economic difficulties. For the measly sum of 3,000 francs (Pujol’s usual fee being 20,000 francs per show), the Moulin Rouge lost their star attraction, who proceeded to set up his own travelling show called the Theatre Pompadour.
In the following decade Pujol tried to ‘refine’ and make his acts ‘gentler’; one of his favourite numbers became a rhyme about a farm which he himself composed, and which he punctuated with the usual anal renditions of the animals’ sounds. The climax of his act, however, involved him farting his impression of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
With the outbreak of World War I, Pujol, horrified by the inhumanity of the conflict, retired from the stage and returned to his bakery in Marseille. Later he opened a biscuit factory in Toulon. He died in 1945, aged 88, and was buried in the cemetery of La Valette-du-Var, where his grave can still be seen today. The Sorbonne offered his family a large sum of money to study his body after his death, but they refused the offer.
This recording is by a Monsieur Lefires, a Pujol imitator: