Let’s address the title immediately, shall we? How could a fart be worth $100,000? Well, here on Ripley’s History Off the Record, we run the VPN and throw our browsers incognito so you don’t have to, and today we’re talking about the greatest flatulist of all time: Joseph Pujol, better known as Le Petomane—a French performer whose stage name loosely translates to the Fartomaniac.
How It All Began
Now, immediate disclaimer here, my French pronunciation is absolutely abysmal, so apologies in advance. Joseph Pujol was born in Marseilles, France in 1857. As a boy, he had a strange experience in the sea that would eventually lead him to become a professional farter, performing for royalty. After leaving school one day, he went for a swim, as he dove underwater holding his breath, he felt the icy waters enter his rear.
This is when he realized he had preternatural control of his abdominal muscles. He could inhale with his anus, and even slurp up water, then control the release with his sphincter muscles. As an adult, Pujol could eject a stream of water from his anus stretching 16 feet. He—and this is a quote—was able to “wash your walls with a bucket and a squat.” A feat he apparently proved to his fellow soldiers while serving in the army, who described his ability as a “veritable fart fantasia.”
Pujol eventually became a baker and delighted customers with his controlled flatulence. It’s during this time he honed his musical skills, imitating orchestras and telling customers there was a full band behind his bread counter.
Taking His Skills To The Stage
Eventually, Pujol decided to take his fartistry to the stage. At first, audiences weren’t sure what to think. Historian Alison Moore writes in “The Spectacular Anus of Joseph Pujol” that the very hilarity of a man making money with his ass was both the strength of his act, but also very possibly what held him back. Pujol himself didn’t naturally have the appearance of a star, and when booking gigs was said to burst into managers’ offices declare he could control the elasticity of his anus at will, and then before anything else could be said, bend over and start flatulating musically until they gave him the job.
Audiences would eventually find his antics to be a gas. By 1892, Pujol high society became so enamored with the Fartomaniac, that he performed at the Moulin Rouge. In Paris, his act was much more than small musical notes. No, at the moulin Rouge his farts became cannon fire and thunderstorms, blowing out candles from many feet away, smoke from his rear, and he even showcased his ability to play the ocarina using tubes tied to his anus.
Audiences included King Edward VII, Leopold II, and even Sigmund Freud. Several accounts say people would laugh so hard during his performances that they would pass out.
A Star Was Born
Pujol turned his crass act into a life of elegance and sophistication, eventually outgrowing the Moulin Rouge, and taking his own hand at show writing and production, but this is where his rogue flatulence would cost him. After performing for a friend on hard times, the Moulin Rouge sued Pujol for flatulating out of contract. Eventually, the matter would be settled for 3,000 Francs, the equivalent of $100,000 today. Unfortunately, this would also prove the end of Le Petomane’s career, war had reared its head in Europe, and Pujol would return home to open a biscuit factory.
Believe It or Not!, a Parisian medical school tried to buy the late Fartomaniac’s body, hoping to learn the secrets of his rectum, after his death in 1945, but the family cheerlessly responded that “some things in life must simply be treated with reverence.”
That’s it for today, let me know in the comments if you’d go to a show starring Le Petomane. Stay tuned for the next History Off the Record.