By Ken Zurski
Even at an early age Joseph Pujol knew he had a gift, or curse, he wasn’t sure.
One day while wading in a watering hole, Pujol felt his inside fill with water. Strangely, though, his head was not submerged. Once on shore, the young Pujol was able to expel the water from the same place it entered. Later when asked, he would say matter-of-factly, “I can breathe through my arsehole.”
But not just “breathe,” Pujol could also send air out his backside at an accelerated rate of speed too. Doctors were baffled. But audiences couldn’t get enough. With the stage name Le Pétomane which combined the words “fart” and “maniac,” Pujol delighted late 19th century Parisian crowds with his tricks and sounds.
Many called him “The Fartiste” or “The Flatulist”, a take on the scientific name for accumulating internal gas – or flatulence. The audiences came prepared for a sound and smell experience, but since Pujol sucked outside air in and blew it out just seconds later, there was no offensive odor.
The stage act was as outrageous as it sounds.
Wearing a form fitting tuxedo with tails, Pujol would set up each stunt with a few carefully chosen words and a combination of hand and face gestures. Then with a professional confidence he would bend over and proceed to extinguish a candle from a foot away, just as he told the audience he could.
In other examples of his craft, Pujol smoked a cigarette using a rubber hose and did impressions too. “Now a hen makes a terrible racket,” he would recite in a sing-song voice, “from the sounds that we hear it’s not one but a packet.” Then the sound like a cackling hen would reverberate around the room.
The act’s encore was his take on vocal interpretations. Although no words were spoken, the musical tones coming from Pujol were clearly distinguishable.
His most popular mimic was a screech he called, “The Mother-in-Law.”
(Note: The :30 second film footage above at the Moulin Rogue and made by Thomas Edison was silent. In the world of the internet, there is a version with copycat sounds added).