Monday, March 26, 2007

Le Pétomane

As I was looking for more information on Harry Houdini, I stumbled upon some entertaining oddities in Ricky Jay's 1986 book Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women (subtitled "Unique, Eccentric and Amazing Entertainers: Stone Eaters, Mind Readers, Poison Resisters, Daredevils, Singing Mice, etc., etc., etc.").

Surely the strangest case discussed in the book is that of M. Joseph Pujol, a baker from Marseille who discovered an unholy ability to control his sphincter in such a way that his rectum could actually take in air, and then blow it out again in various tones and noises: odorless musical flatulence. He is pictured in the book leaning forward at the waist, his index finger raised as if to make a point, some musical notes jumbling happily from his backside.

The ladies and gentlemen who saw him perform at the Moulin Rouge in 1892 were aghast, as Jay explains:
Within a few moments their consternation gave way to laughter. The laughter turned to tears of joy. According to contemporary reports, women especially were beside themselves: "Many fainted and fell down and had to be resuscitated."
He was dubbed Le Pétomane, which Jay translates as "the fartomaniac."

Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope translates it "the fartiste," and points out that at one time, Le Pétomane earned much more than the most celebrated French performer of the time, Miss Sarah Bernhardt -- 20,000 francs to her 8,000.

Adams describes Pujol's show:
In a typical performance, he appeared on stage in red cape, black trousers, and white cravat, with a pair of white gloves held in the hands for a touch of elegance. Having explained that his emissions were odorless -- Le Pétomane took care to irrigate his colon daily -- he would proceed with a program of fart impressions, as it were: the timid fart of the young girl, the hearty fart of the miller, the fart of the bride on her wedding night (almost inaudible), the fart of the bride a week later (a lusty raspberry), and a majestic 10-second fart which he likened to a couturier cutting six feet of calico cloth.
He would also smoke a cigarette through a tube that he inserted into his rectum.

Though I haven't seen it, I understand Le Pétomane was immortalized by an actor named Keith Robinson in Baz Luhrmann's 2001 movie Moulin Rouge.

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