One summer’s day in the mid-1860′s, a young French boy named Joseph Pujol had a frightening experience at the seashore. Swimming out alone, he held his breath and dove underwater. Suddenly an icy cold feeling penetrated his gut. Frightened, he ran ashore, but then received a second shock when he noticed seawater streaming from his anus. The boy didn’t know it at the time, but this unsettling experience foretold of a gift that would later make him the toast of Paris and one of the most popular and successful performers of his generation.

Soon he discovered that by contracting his abdomen muscles, he could intentionally take up as much water as he liked and eject it in a powerful stream. Demonstrating this ability back at the barracks later provided the soldiers with no end of amusement, and soon Pujol started to practice with air instead of water, giving him the ability to produce a variety of sounds. It was in the army, that Pujol invented a nickname for himself that would later become a stage name synonymous throughout Europe: “Le Petomane” (translation: “The Fartiste”).

In 1892 Pujol became a headliner at The Moulin Rouge. Pujol dressed formally andpresented his routine with an unrelentingly deadpan delivery. He performed imitations, using the simple format of announcing and then demonstrating. He displayed his wide sonic range with tenor, baritone, and bass fart sounds. He imitated the farts of a little girl, a mother-in-law, a bride on her wedding night (tiny), the same bride the day after (loud), and a mason (dry– “no cement”). He imitated thunder, cannons and even the sound of a dressmaker tearing two yards of calico (a full 10-second rip). After the imitations, Le Petomane popped backstage to put one end of a yard-long rubber tube into his anus. He returned and smoked a cigarette from this tube, after which he used it to play a couple of tunes on a song flute. For his finale he removed the rubber tube, blew out some of the gas-jet footlights from a safe distance away, and then led the audience in a rousing sing-along.

Eventually a series of legal battles between Pujol and Moulin Rouge led to his leaving to start his own Theatre Pompadour. The new Theatre Pompadour included mime and magic and other acts performed by Pujol’s family and performer friends. Le Petomane continued to be an enormous draw until around 1900, when the interest of the show-going public began to wane. When World War I began, four of Pujol’s sons went off to fight and the theater had to close down. One son was taken prisoner and two of the others became invalids, and Pujol was so shattered that after the war he had no interest in returning to his performing career. The family moved back to Marseille where Pujol ran several bakeries and a biscuit factory with his wife, children and grandchildren until his death in 1945.