Le Pétomane (//, French pronunciation: [ləpetɔˈman]) 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 seemingly 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.
Joseph Pujol was born in Marseilles, one of 5 children stonemason/sculptor François Pujol and his wife Rose. Soon after Pujol 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.
While serving in 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 up to several yards. He found that he could suck in air as well. A baker, Pujol would sometimes entertain his customers by imitating musical instruments, and claim to be playing them behind the counter. Pujol decided to try the stage, and debuted in Marseilles in 1887. When his act was well received, he moved to Paris, where he appeared at 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. Pujol was fined 3,000 francs, and the Moulin Rouge lost their star attraction as the disagreement led him 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.
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 Marseilles. 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 theatre 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.
Los Angeles-based Sherbourne Press published Jean Nohain and F. Caradec's Le Pétomane as a small hardcover English language edition in 1967. Due to its ‘sensitive’ nature, the usual national publicity venues shied away, some claiming that an author was needed for interviews (both elderly writers lived in France). However, ‘behind the curtain’ acceptance created a buzz within the national radio/TV promotional circuit and word-of-mouth discussion kept the book in stores for several years. Dorset Press, a division of Barnes & Noble, reissued the book in 1993.
The character has been portrayed several times in film. In 1979 Ian MacNaughton made a 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, directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile and 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 documentary 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.
Le Petomane is also referenced in Blazing Saddles, a 1974 satirical Western comedy film directed by Mel Brooks. Brooks appears in multiple supporting roles, including the dim-witted Governor William J. Le Petomane, whose name suggests he is full of hot air.
Notes and references
- Le Pétomane: The Strange Life of a "Fartiste" Accessed 2012-02-02
- Did a French vaudeville star once specialize in trained flatulence? Accessed 2008-12-02
- Begone With the Wind Accessed 2008-09-01
- One source says his death occurred "shortly after the Allied landing", presumably a reference to D-Day, 6 June, but that was in 1944.
- "Le Petomane (1979)". British movies. Britmovie.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- White, Mike. "Le Petomane: Fin de Siècle Fartiste (Igor Vamos, 2000)". Cahiers du Cinemart. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
- Le Pétomane 1857-1945 by Jean Nohain and F. Caradec; translated by Warren Tute. Sherbourne Press (1967); republished Dorset Press (1993)