If elaborate pranks aren’t your style, you really can’t go wrong with a good old-fashioned whoopee cushion. But before planting one, why not sit down (on a perfectly harmless chair) and enjoy these breezy tidbits?
1. A Roman Emperor Enjoyed Using Primitive Ones
In 218 CE, fourteen-year-old Marcus Aurelius Antonius, also known as “Elgabalus," became the youngest emperor Rome had ever seen. Like many teens, he had a mischievous side. At dinner parties, Elgabalus was known to slip “air pillows” under his low-status friends, which produced embarrassing sounds.
2. The Modern Whoopee Cushion was Invented in Canada
From peanut butter to the wonderbra, so many great things in modern life came from the great white north. Employees of Toronto’s JEM rubber company began tinkering around with these tooting air sacs in 1930. Their earliest attempts featured wooden mouthpieces.
3. At First, the Creator of Joy Buzzers Didn’t Think The Whoopee Cushion Would Sell
Known as the “father of the novelty prank,” we can all thank Soren Sorensen Adams for joy buzzers, sneezing powder, and the snake-in-the-can gag. By the time whoopee cushions came along, he’d established himself as the world’s pre-eminent prankster and founded the S.S. Adams novelty company. Clearly, if you had a practical joke idea, this was the man to see. But when JEM offered to sell Adams their flatulent baggies, he declined, citing them as “inappropriate” and “lewd.” Undaunted, the rubber company started mass-producing the toys without him. Once Adams saw how successful these things were, he finally relented, contacted JEM, and started stocking up.
4. Early Models Were Called “Boop-Boop A Doops” and “Poo-Poo Cushions”
JEM used these monikers until finally going with “whoopee cushions” in 1932. For the record, Adams marketed his as “razzberry cushions.”
5. Kilted Kids Were Once Printed on Them
Whoopee cushions manufactured by JEM in 1932 were decorated with the image of a smiling “Scottish kilt-clad boy wearing boots with spurs and carrying a rifle.”
6. The World’s Biggest Whoopee Cushion is Over Nineteen Feet in Diameter
A group of New Zealanders claimed the Guinness world record last September.
While not quite the world's largest, the huge whoopee cushion in the video below is worth seeing in action:
7. Surprise, Surprise: They Inspired Whoopi Goldberg’s Stage Name
After repeatedly passing gas backstage during a theatrical production in San Diego, actress Caryn Elaine Johnson’s friends compared her to a whoopee cushion. Amused, the comedienne rebranded herself “Whoopi” before hitting Hollywood (and adding the last name “Goldberg”).
8. Celebrity Fans Include Comedy Rock Stars Bob Saget and the Late, Great Leslie Nielsen
“It’s frightening how much I know about [them]”, says Saget, who says he’s worn out ten since his childhood but generally avoids flatulent humor onstage. In contrast, Nielsen—the star of such legendary satires as Airplane! (1980)—used to love triggering whoopee cushions during interviews and even in front of royalty. While on a golf course with Prince Rainier III of Monaco, Nielsen suddenly started waxing poetic. “It’s so beautiful here,” he declared, “the green of the fairway, the mountains...It’s so beautiful, it actually does something to my insides.” And then, without missing a beat, he set off the whoopee cushion.
9. Your Voice Acts Like a Whoopee Cushion
According to acoustic engineering professor Trevor Cox of Salford University, “The whoopee cushion has much in common with the human voice.”
“What happens is the bits of rubber flap open and close, letting little pulses of air out. It’s actually just like your vocal folds, which open and close, letting little pulses of air out to make sound.”
10. One Survey Concluded That the Funniest Whoopee Cushions Emit “Long and Whiny” Sounds
In 2009, Cox helped orchestrate a massive poll to determine which phony farts got the biggest laughs. Through the website www.soundsfunny.com, an astonishing turnout of 34,000 people voted for their favorite whoopee cushion audio clips. Based on their preferences, his team observed that longer-lasting beefs got higher ratings: the participants’ top choice raged on for a full seven seconds! Higher-pitched “whiny” butt trumpets also proved quite popular. And, interestingly, surveyed Europeans largely found whoopee cushion noises in general funnier than their American counterparts did.