Joseph Pujol, a man of singular talent, was born in Marseilles, France in 1857. In his early youth it became clear that he was a natural entertainer, singing, dancing, and performing for his parents’ house guests. He had a love for music, and over the years he became handy with a trombone, but it was a different wind instrument that led to his eventual fame and fortune.

Young Joseph became alarmed one day when he was swimming in the sea, and took a deep breath before submerging. As he inhaled, he felt icy cold water entering through his rear end. He immediately returned to shore, and was astonished to see a great deal of seawater pouring from his backside. A doctor assured him that this was nothing to be concerned about, and it seems that Joseph took this advice to heart, exploring his strange new ability with a healthy curiosity.

He soon found that with a little abdominal control, he could deliberately suck water in through his anus, and project it back out with impressive force, creating a spout of several meters. Further experimentation led him to discover that he could also suck in large amounts of air if he contorted himself properly, which he could let out at will. He was also able to use varying pressures to produce distinct notes, allowing him to reproduce simple tunes. Needless to say, he became very popular at school as a result. But little did he know that this unique talent would one day make him the most well-known and most highly paid entertainer in all of France.

While Joseph was in the army he amused his fellow soldiers with his lowbrow tricks, and they gave him the nickname “Le Pétomane,” which translates roughly to “fartiste.” When he left the service he opened a bakery in Marseilles which was reputed to bake some of the finest bran muffins in the south of France, but he started a foray into show business when he began to feel restless. At first he resisted using his unique physiology in his stage comedy act, instead trying the “yokel with the trombone” routine, but the fartiste within him could not be contained.

The Moulin Rouge ca. 1923
The Moulin Rouge ca. 1923

In 1887 at age 30, “Le Pétomane” first took the stage in Marseilles. The initial attempt was met with some skepticism, since “petomanie” (or “fartistry”) was something of a novelty for the French. But he quickly won the audience over, and was a big success. He developed his act locally for about five years, then went on to Paris to try for the infamous Moulin Rouge. He succeeded.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have the honor to present a session of Petomanie.” Such was his introduction at the famous vanity theater on his first night. He was very finely dressed in a red coat and black satin breeches, with a pair of white gloves held in his hands. He looked quite sophisticated as he explained to the audience that the emissions he was about to produce were completely odorless, since he irrigated his colon daily. The audience was completely unprepared for what lay ahead. And so he began.

He started off with a series of fart impressions⁠—a new bride’s timid toot; her noisy, flapping emissions a week later; the solid, booming fart of a miller; and a majestic ten-second-long helping of flatulence to wrap up his introduction. He did impressions of famous people, he played songs, and he blew out candles. He did imitations of cannon fire, and reenacted a thunderstorm. And that was just the first portion of the show.

At first, the audience was astonished at the bizarre spectacle. But when the first uncontrollable laughter erupted from the crowd, it quickly spread throughout the theater. Soon the men and women were completely paralyzed with laughter, with tears streaming down their cheeks. A number of women passed out, unable to breathe in their tightly bound corsets, and had to be escorted from the theater by nurses.

For the second part of his act, he stepped offstage and inserted a rubber tube into his orifice, which dangled out of a hole in the back of his trousers. His used the tube to smoke two cigarettes at once, one from each end; to blow out the flames of stage lights; and as a grand finale, he attached an ocarina to the end of the hose, and played popular tunes while inviting the audience to sing along.

Overnight, Le Pétomane was a huge success. He used his unique physiology to entertain in this way for years, eventually becoming the highest paid entertainer in all of France, and perhaps the world. He parted ways with the Moulin Rouge in 1895 when the owner of the theater sued him for breach of contract after he fart-serenaded a few people in public, but he was quickly replaced by a female, bellows-powered fraud⁠—La Femme-Pétomane.

Joseph opened a theater of his own and enjoyed many more years of success, until two of his sons were disabled in World War 1 in 1914. At that point he gave up the stage and went back to baking, and let his rectum content itself with more conventional pursuits. He died, aged 88 years, in 1945. When a medical school in Paris requested the privilege of examining the late Le Pétomane’s famous anus, the family declined, stating, “there are some things in this life which simply must be treated with reverence.” An astute observation indeed.

Though Le Pétomane was perhaps the most famous fartiste, he was not the first to ply the farting trade⁠—professional flatulism has a long and rich history throughout the world. In the De Civitate Dei, written about halfway through the first century A.D., Saint Augustine mentions some performers who possessed “such command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at will, so as to produce the effect of singing.” As other examples, medieval Ireland had professional farters called “braigetori,” and the Japanese Kamakura period (1185–1333) had professional performers of fart dances called Oribe.

A contemporary flatulist, perhaps the only representative of his trade today, is Mr. Methane. He clearly lacks Le Pétomane’s class, but he can certainly break a wind. Dressing in a cape and mask, he has the appearance of a superhero (or supervillain), though whether the force of his farts is sufficient to allow him flight is doubtful. But be warned, if you spend much time reading his website, your world will turn pink.

(The word “fart” occurs 13 times in this article).