The Strange (and Smelly) Story of Performance Farters

Wikipedia // CC BY-SA 3.0
Wikipedia // CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikipedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

For nearly as long as there's been fart humor, there's been the performance farter—a loose-boweled individual who releases smelly gas on command in exchange for applause and money.

According to Linda Rodriguez in Atlas Obscura, one notable 12th-century performance farter was Roland, or “Roland the Farter,” who served as English King Henry II’s court minstrel. Roland would perform a dance at Christmas pageants that ended in a public display of flatulence. His skills allegedly earned him a manor house and more than 100 acres of land. (The property was reportedly rescinded by another king, who is said to have been grossed out by Roland's "talent.") 

Roland isn’t history’s only fart act. During the 8th century, some Irish courts retained bruigedoires, or “farters,” and paid them in choice game parts. St. Augustine of Hippo’s early 5th-century book City of God referenced people who could fart on command. A Japanese tale dating back to the Kamakura era (1185 to 1333) mentions a man named Fukutomi no Oribe, who “performed fart dances for the aristocracy.” (In fact, the Japanese seem to have loved farts in general, as street performers during the country’s Edo period also released wind on cue.) And in 1892, a famous farter named Joseph Pujo—whose bottom could blow out candles and jetlights on command—booked a 90-minute show at Paris’s famed Moulin Rouge. Today, he is remembered as one of the period’s best-paid performers.

The smelly tradition is alive today, but one modern-day flatulist says that the rise of Internet culture has dried up his business. Paul Oldfield, who calls himself Mr. Methane, has been a professional farter since 1991. Despite multiple TV spots, festival appearances, and album recordings over the years, he says he gets less work now that others can watch him on YouTube.

However, it’s unlikely that Oldfield's skills will ever grow obsolete. After all, no matter how advanced our civilization grows, there will always be someone who breaks into laughter the moment they catch, uh, wind of flatulence.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]