Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
In 1900, Thomas Edison traveled to Paris to document the magnificent city, and among the wonders he captured on film was a performance by former Moulin Rouge star, Joseph Pujol. This elegantly attired gentleman achieved fame with a series of impressions, carried out by a rather eccentric orifice. He was known as Le Petomane and Le Fartiste.
Pujol claimed to have discovered his unusual talent as a child, and soon set about achieving different effects by using his abdominal muscles to expel not gas, but odorless air. By varying the pressure, he was able to play simple tunes. By the time he turned 30, his act had expanded to include impersonations of celebrities, musical instruments, birds, a thunderstorm and such stock characters as a nervous bride. His grand finale included feats such as blowing out candles, smoking cigarettes, playing an ocarina, playing the French national anthem on a flute, and a farting rendition of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake which lasted more than five minutes– usually reserved for the grand finale.
The audience loved it, often singing along to the songs played in his farting flute routines. He was the star attraction of the Moulin Rouge and even performed for royalty making 20,000 francs a week, out-earning every other stage performer in Europe at the time except Houdini.
When the Moulin Rouge tried to re-negotiate his contract, he left the iconic music hall and opened his own theatre where he continued to perform to a full house until the start of WWI when everyone’s appetite for toilet humor presumably began to wane. Le Fartiste hung up his flute and never performed in public again.
Unfortunately, there are no sound recordings of Pujol’s act. However, here is a half hour biopic, directed by Monty Python’s Ian McNaughton and starring Leonard Rossiter as Le Petomane.
[Email subscribers can view both videos by clicking on the title of this post.]