Le Petomane (Joseph Pujol)

La Petomane introducing his act at the Moulin Rouge, 1892: “Preparez vous a etre etonne”!

Le Petomane blowing out a candle, part of his stage act.

Joseph Pujol aka Le Petomane at the height of his powers.

Le Petomane never recorded, here however is a disc by an imitator of his Mr Lefires, issued in 1904.

Joseph Pujol was born on June 1, 1857 in Marseilles, France to Francois Pujol and Rose Demaury, both of whom were of Catalan origin and brought to France as children. Francois was a stone mason and sculptor (the twisted columns on the Museum Of Fine Arts or Parlais Longchamp in Marseilles, are his and can still be seen holding the place up). Joseph, the eldest of five children was schooled until age thirteen then took on an apprenticeship as a baker. His father soon set him up in a little shop in a building that he had built with his own hands in the Quarter St Charles Chuttes-Lavie, on the corner of the street which today bears his name–Rue Pujol. At age 26 he married Elizabeth Henriette Oliver (b. 1863), the daughter of a butcher, and together they would have ten children.
It was while swimming one summer, while still in his teens that young Joseph discovered his unique talent, the reason why he is still remembered to this day. He found he was able to ingest any amount of liquid he desired, through his anus, and expel said liquid in such a way as to hit any target at a good distance. He used this talent to entertain his friends, and went back to the bakery. He again put his talent to use to entertain his friends when he was drafted into the Army, and in secret began practicing, not with liquid but with air. Now Pujol discovered he could control his intake and outtake of air in such a way as to imitate sounds found in nature (bird calls, beasts howling, etc.), blow out candles, and eventually play simple melodies on a flute he had built to his own specifications. He decided to go into showbiz and gave his first performance in Marseilles in a small theater he rented himself for the occasion. His debut was such a success he soon approached the an agent for a local music hall and there is evidence that he gave a short tour in the year 1991 performing in Toulon, Bordeaux (where he was examined by curious doctors) and at Clerment-Ferrand, a show which was favorably reviewed in a local newspaper.
In 1892 he was ready for the big time and headed for Paris where he presented himself to the director of the famous theater the Moulin Rouge who gave him an audition. He was put on the bill that same evening and gave his first performance, in elegant costume– red coat with silk collar, black satin breeches, stockings, patent leather knee pumps, white butterfly tie and white gloves. He was an immediate hit and was given a contract the next day. This contract allowed him to tour and perform outside of Paris, but in Paris the Moulin Rouge had an exclusive contract. He appeared all over Europe, he was a hit all over. He also gave private “men’s only” performances in which he would re-create the liquid part of the show which he had deemed inappropriate for the music hall. At one of these private shows King Leopold II of Belgium tipped him with a 20 franc gold piece. In his act he would start out doing re-creations of persons passing gas in various situations, such as a bride on her wedding night, followed by the same bride the next morning, building up to animals, bird calls, blowing out candles, playing the flute, the sound of a canon, and of course, a version of “Au claire de la lune”. He would then blow out several of the gas jets on the stage and invite the audience to sing the chorus with him.
Probably because of his habit of taking daily enemas, he could do his act without creating any offensive odors, this is something remarked on by nearly all who came in close contact with him.
Despite his success, eventually he attempted to break his contract with the Moulin Rouge and set out on his own. He was sued and lost, the court fining him 3,000 francs. Still, he was a man of great humor and well liked by all, and his show continued to pack them in. His family lived well at the time, with a large house full of servants and an elegant coach in which he drove himself to work every night.
In 1914 the Great War broke out and all four of his beloved sons were mobilized. One became a prisoner of war and two were invalided. After the 1918 armistice, Joseph Pujol was a shattered man, he no longer had the heart for his comic act. He would move the family back to Marseilles, and then in 1922, to Toulon, where he resumed his original trade as a baker, eventually opening up a biscuit factory. He died in 1945 at the age of 88, shortly after the allied landing in Normandy.
His act was never filmed nor does any audio recording of it exists, yet he is still remembered and talked about to this day. Pujol’s body was willed to science, the doctors who studied it were perplexed by how unremarkable it seemed.
In the years Joseph Pujol lived, Paris was the center of the art world, and created many important movements including the decadents, the symbolists, surrealism, dadaism, cubism, etc. but none any stranger than the music hall act presented by Le Petomane, the man who turned the fart into an art form.
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