These days, getting famous for dubious reasons is the norm, but even today’s nebulous influencers and social media stars can’t make a living through literal hot air. There was once a time, though, that just being really good at farting was enough to propel you to the top of the entertainment world. Le Petomane, history’s most famous flatulist, was living proof of that fact.

The Amazing Le Petomane

Joseph Pujol A.K.A. Le Petomane

(Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

Le Petomane’s real name was Joseph Pujol. He was born in Marseilles in 1857 to a sculptor and stonemason, so the arts ran in his digestive tract. As a young man, he joined the French army, where he found his first audience in his fellow soldiers.

He Didn’t Really Fart

People covering their noses to avoid gas

(Jules D./Unsplash)

The source of Pujol’s musical stylings weren’t actually farts. What made Pujol so remarkable was his ability to expand his abdomen, sucking up a gust of air through his butt and then “exhaling” it. This was an important factor of his performance, because if he was truly expelling gas, he’d lose his audience real quick.

Just to be sure, though, he gave himself an enema before each show to guarantee an odor-free product. Don’t worry -- this was much easier for him than it would be for any of us.

A Beach Discovery

Beach with seagulls

(Pexels/Pixabay)

In fact, Pujol’s discovery of his talent was aquatic in nature. During a day at the beach, the young man took a deep breath to dive below the waves when he suddenly felt an icy chill in his abdomen. After getting out and doing some private investigating, he realized he’d accidentally sucked about two liters of water into his ass.

The Fart Maniac

“Petomane” is a portmanteau of the French words péter, meaning “to fart,” and -mane, meaning “-maniac.” His name was literally “The Fart Maniac.”

Farting wasn’t his whole life. We all contain multitudes, and in Pujol’s case, he was trained as a baker and returned to the profession after retiring from showbiz. He was appropriately said to make the best bran muffins in town, and his goodies were so renowned that the street where his bakery was located has been named after him.

He Had More Sex Than You

If you think the life of a professional farter is lonely, you’re sorely mistaken. Not only did Le Petomane have a wife, they had 10 children together. He was so beloved by his family that they refused to allow a medical school to examine his anus after his death, explaining “there are some things in this life which simply must be treated with reverence.” 

The Moulin Rouge

The Moulin Rouge in 1900

(Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

After touring around a bit, Pujol really became a star at the Moulin Rouge, where he eventually outearned the actress usually regarded as the club’s main attraction, Sarah Bernhardt. He impressed the owner with a demonstration that included sucking up a tubful of water and impersonating the owner’s mother-in-law (with his butt, to be clear). He even appears in the 2001 Baz Luhrmann movie.

Moulin Rouge Sued Him For Freelance Farting

Pujol was such a draw for the Moulin Rouge that when he tried to help out a friend’s business by farting outside his stall to attract customers, the club sued him, arguing that farting anywhere else constituted breach of contract. The French media had a lot of fun with that one.

Rubbing Elbows With Royalty

Sigmund Freud

(Max Halberstadt/Wikimedia Commons)

Pujol was highly respected in his time, hanging out with artists like Renior and Matisse and performing for the Prince of Wales, King Leopold II of Belgium, and Sigmund Freud. Pujol’s whole deal was apparently instrumental in Freud’s development of his anal fixation theory, and the psychiatrist supposedly kept a picture of him on his wall.

Pujol’s act was divided in two parts: First, he’d warm up the audience with impressions of people and animals. He also used a rubber tube to smoke cigarettes out of the wrong end. Then, he’d get down to business, playing songs by imitating instruments or using the tube to play a flute or ocarina. He even wrote his own songs.

Laughing to Death (Or At Least the Emergency Room)

Audiences at the Moulin Rouge found Pujol so funny that it wasn’t uncommon for several of its corseted members to pass out where they sat, and one man even had a heart attack. Eventually, the club started keeping nurses on-hand to deal with the fallout.

A Timeless Joke

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

(Warner Bros.)

One of the songs Pujol routinely “sang” was “O Sole Mio,” which means that Jim Carrey’s similar gag in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was likely a tribute performance.

A Comedic Nod

Mel Brooks also paid homage to the famous farter by naming the pushover governor of Blazing Saddles William J. Le Petomane, which is honestly kind of hurtful. Just because he was a professional farter doesn't mean he wasn't a stand-up guy.

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