Until recently, I had never heard the French word: Le Pétomane. It is a combination of the word péter (to fart) and maniac. It literally means FARTOMANIAC.
You might be reading this thinking, ‘What on Earth is the fartomaniac?’ But the question you should really be asking is ‘Who on Earth is the fartomaniac?’
In 1857, a man was born in Marseilles with an incredible talent. He couldn’t run faster than the speed of light like The Flash. Nor could his body deflect bullets or withstand incredible temperatures like Superman. Oh no, Joseph Pujol’s talent was far less DC, and much more WC: he could suck air into his rear end and control the subsequent release of that air to play music, create sound effects and entertain crowds of hundreds at Paris’ premier entertainment venue, le Moulin Rouge.
Pujol apparently discovered his unique anatomical skill while swimming at the beach as a child. The story goes that he took a deep breath to swim underwater and accidentally sucked up a load of seawater with his derriere.
As he grew into a young man, he realised he was able to control his backside to take in large quantities of air. While serving in the army, his colleagues were enthusiastic about Joseph’s extraordinary ability and nicknamed him Le Pétomane. After his spell in the military, he returned to Marseilles to run a bakery and work part-time as a trombonist. But nobody wanted to hear Pujol play the trombone. They wanted to hear him
play the trump et.
He started in local music halls before working his way through the ranks of the French entertainment industry to the peak of his success: Le Moulin Rouge. He was an overnight sensation and, for a while, was the country’s highest-paid entertainer. Pujol’s bare musical bottom was never seen by a public audience – he appeared on stage in the smartest formal wear of the day with a pipe trailing from the back of his trousers. Reports from the day say he could perform stunts such as smoking a cigarette through his behind and blowing out a candle from a distance of five metres!
But his career at the Moulin Rouge ended badly. Pujol broke his contract by farting his way through an unauthorised public performance. The venue sued him and he left, setting up his own show instead. To the French media’s great hilarity, Pujol was replaced at the Moulin Rouge by a female fartomaniac (La Femme Pétomane) who was later revealed to have a run-of-the-mill bottom and a set of bellows hidden in her petticoat.
Pujol retired from public life in 1914 and returned to Marseilles where he lived until his death in 1945, aged 88.
Since his death, he has appeared as a character in many films set in early 20th-century Paris. There have been documentaries made about him and, in 2006, a musical called Le Fartiste.
So, there you have it folks, Le Pétomane. Joseph Pujol is one of the many eccentric characters in the history of Paris. He may have only lived there for a few years but his bizarre gift and meteoric rise to fame should place him squarely on any list of the city’s superstars.
The only surviving footage of Le Pétomane, filmed in 1900.