Le Pétomane was the stage name of the French flatulist (professional farter) and entertainer Joseph Pujol (June 1, 1857–1945). He was famous for his remarkable control of the abdominal muscles, which enabled him to seem to fart at will. His stage name combines the French verb péter, “to fart” with the –mane, “-maniac” suffix, which translates to “fartomaniac”. The profession is also referred to as “flatulist”, “farteur”, or “fartiste”.
It is a common misconception that Joseph Pujol actually passed intestinal gas as part of his stage performance. Rather, Pujol was able to “inhale” or move air into his rectum and then control the release of that air with his anal sphincter muscles. Evidence of his ability to control those muscles was seen in the early accounts of demonstrations of his abilities to fellow soldiers.
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 traveling 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.
Le Pétomane left an enduring legacy and has inspired a number of artistic works. These include several musicals based on his life, such as The Fartiste (awarded Best Musical at the 2006 New York International Fringe Festival) and Seth Rozin’s A Passing Wind which was premiered at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts in 2011. In addition, Le Pétomane was added to David Lee’s 2007 reworked revival of the 1953 Broadway play Can-Can, which had originally been written by Abe Burroughs and Cole Porter. The updated play, staged at the Pasadena Playhouse, featured musical theater actor Robert Yacko as the fartiste, with sound effects provided by the band’s trombone and piccolo players. More recently, the re-released works of English toilet humour specialist Ivor Biggun include “Southern Breeze”, a song about a “Famous French Farteur” who describes in rhyme a stroll through a farmyard, accompanied by appropriate farting noises.
The character has been portrayed several times in film. Ian MacNaughton made a 1979 short humorous film, written by Galton and Simpson called Le Pétomane, based on Pujol’s story and starring veteran comic actor Leonard Rossiter. The 1983 Italian movie Il Petomane, starring Ugo Tognazzi, gives a poetic rendition of the character, contrasting his deep longing for normalcy with the condition of ‘freak’ to which his act relegated him. The 1998 mockumentary Le Pétomane by Igor Vamos examines Joseph Pujol’s place in history through archival films (none of which actually include him), historical documents, photographs, recreations and fake or tongue-in-cheek interviews.
Other appearances include Le Pétomane: Parti Avec Le Vent a 2005 short film based on Pujol’s life, starring Ben Wise. It was written, produced and directed by Steve Ochs and in Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film Moulin Rouge! played by Australian actor Keith Robinson. Other references to Le Pétomane include Mel Brooks’s 1974 film Blazing Saddles, Kevin Gilbert’s The Shaming of the True, the 1984 college romp film Up the Creek, directed by Robert Butler, in which the four protagonists representLepetomane University in an inter-collegiate river raft race, Kinky Friedman’s 1999 novel Spanking Watson, and John Hodgman’s book The Areas of My Expertise.
Via Le Petomane