Paris at the turn of the century was a hotbed of artistic activity. Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Gertrude Stein, Marcel Proust, and many other acclaimed writers, painters, musicians, and performers made Paris their stomping grounds in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One such performance artist, Joseph Pujol, rose to fame around this time as a flatulist. Yes, a professional farter.
During a childhood visit to the beach, a young Pujol had discovered that he could “inhale” water into his butt. And lo, every young boy’s dream became his reality. First he contented himself with shooting powerful jets of water out of his rear end, but eventually he realized he could intake air as well, allowing him to make as many raucous fart sounds as he wanted. It wasn’t as gross a hobby as you might imagine: Since he wasn’t actually farting out gas from his digestive tracks, his anal anthems didn’t smell.
Pujol’s gas act, under his stage name “Le Petomane” (the word “pet” means fart in French) became a headliner at the Moulin Rouge, and the flatulist would tour the world for more than two decades. He performed imitations of songs and specific sounds, like the noise fabric makes when it rips. He was eventually discovered by Thomas Edison, who was working on an invention that would add sound and smell to a movie.
Edison recorded Le Petomane’s act at the World’s Fair in 1900 in Paris. The sound (and whatever smell might have accompanied it) have since been lost, but the film itself is still around:
Pujol left the theatrical world after World War I, moving to Marseilles to run a series of bakeries. Thanks to being immortalized in one of Edison’s early films, Le Petomane’s talents have not been forgotten. In 2011, Pujol became the subject of an off-Broadway musical called The Fartiste.
And lest you think fart performances are consigned to history, know that there are still flatulists fanning the dying art. A UK-based performer nicknamed Mr. Methane considers himself an heir to Pujol’s anal voicing technique. Because fart jokes will never go out of style.
Additional sources: “Cheeky Behavior: The Meaning and Function of ‘Fartlore’ in Childhood and Adolescence"