On the Lamentable Career of Le Pétomane

There is a reason I have not yet done a post on Joseph Pujol (1857-1945) to date after 12 years of blogging about the variety arts (hundreds of posts, countless performers, many of them lesser known than he) and that I am posting it on the quiet, not publicizing it as I normally do. It is because I possess an ocean of scorn for the idea that farts are funny and a canyon of contempt for people who think they are. I don’t ever want to converse on the subject, I’ll erase all comments this post may inspire, and those who persist in advertising their stupidity in bringing it up to me will be slapped down until the titters cease to come. I include Pujol in these annals in the interest of completion only. Pujol was a phenomenon, even a star, of the variety theatre and so I feel compelled to include him here lest anyone foolishly assume he never made it onto our radar. About a decade ago I reviewed the off-off Broadway show about him The Fartiste, and I considered my work on the topic done, but I can’t seem to find the review anywhere, so I thought I would release this brief squib on his natal day.

I first learned about Pujol from Ricky Jay’s Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women. He was a French baker from Marseilles who discovered that he could take in air through his anus, and then release it back it out with the sort of control exercised by singers and horn and woodwind players. He could make these exhalations sound like roars and rumbles, buzzes, hums, and whines. He could “play” tunes as one plays a comb and tissue paper. Intitally a parlor trick, he went professional in a Marseilles music hall in 1887. By 1892 he was a star of the Moulin Rouge. He was billed as “Le Letomane” (The Fart-o-maniac), and called a “fartiste”. And yet technically what he did was not farting. He was not letting out natural intestinal gas, but air, which as we have said, he took in through his anus. He retired his act when the First World War hit, and went back to baking bread in Marseilles.

I’m not saying I would not enjoy a performer like this. I think I would be especially amused by Pujol’s rendition of operatic arias by this method. His actual ACT would no doubt have tickled me. It is, after all, in the tradition of Rabelais. But lummoxes laughing about farts make me see red, and talk of Le Petomane brings them out of the woodwork like stinkbugs.

To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous