Joseph Pujol was known as Le Petomane.
He introduced petomanie which drew audiences in their thousands to the Moulin Rouge, the premier variety theatre in Paris.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I have the honour to present a session of Petomanie.”
Audiences were larger than for the legendary Sarah Bernhardt, eager to be paralysed with laughter, tears running down their eyes and cheeks.
It is necessary to describe something that years ago would not have found its way into print. Pujol farted.
Joseph Pujol was born at nine o’clock in the evening on June 1, 1857. His parents, Francois Pujol, a stonemason, and Rose Demaury, were of Catalan origin but settled in Marseilles. They had five children, of whom Joseph was the eldest.
At 13, he was apprenticed to a baker and, having completed his training, Francois set him up in his own shop in the Quartier Saint Charles Chuttes-Lavie, where now there is a street which bears his name – Rue Pujol.
It was during national service that Joseph Pujol discovered his unusual talent for petomanie, or farting. As a crude entertainment for his comrades, he would inhale vast quantities of water through his rear, expelling it in a giant fountain. Further experiments allowed him to duplicate his water trick using air instead.
However, his early forays into show business were as a comedy musician, the ‘yokel with the trombone’. It was only with the encouragement of friends that he adapted his more unusual artistic skills to the theatre and took the name ‘Le Petomane’ – the Fartiste.
He gave his first professional performance in 1887, aged 30, at the Boulevard Chavre. It was an immediate success.
He developed the act in the provinces until he reached Paris in 1892. Insisting on seeing no one else, he persuaded the director of the Moulin Rouge, M Vidler, to engage him. From the first night he was a sensation.
He took the stage in a costume of red coat, a red silk collar and black satin breeches. He began by explaining each impersonation that was to follow.
“This is a little girl… this is a bride on her wedding night (small noise) … the morning after (loud rasping noise) … a dressmaker tearing calico (ten seconds of ripping cloth) … and this a cannon (loud thunder).”
The audience were at first astounded. Then there would be an uncontrollable laugh, followed by more until the whole audience was wriggling in their seats, convulsed. Women, bound rigid in corsets, were escorted from the hall by nurses, cleverly placed by the manager so that they could he seen in their bright white uniforms.
Pujol embarked on a highly successful tour of Petomanie through Europe and North Africa. On his return, he split from the Moulin Rouge and formed his own variety company at the Pompadour Theatre.
He continued to top the bill there until Europe launched into a madness of its own in 1914. His sons were mobilised and Pujol never went back to the theatre. He settled in Marseilles to run his bakeries and then moved to Toulon where he established a thriving biscuit factory.
There have been few acts to rival him; Joseph Pujol had used to the full a talent which nature had bestowed on him. That he has slipped into obscurity says more about our sensibilities than the performer’s art.
Pujol died in Toulon in 1945, shortly after the allied landing. He survived his wife Elizabeth by 15 years, leaving ten children and countless grandchildren. In Le Petomane by Jean Nohain his eldest surviving son Louis said: ‘In the course of his long life, he had given of his best’ .
There is also a DVD of Leonard Rossiter in the role of Pujol which showcases the talent of both actor and subject although the script does take a bit of artistic licence with Pujol’s life story.
©John Barber – originally published in The Stage 29 May 1997.
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