17 March 2010

Arts and Music: The Farting Man

By Jennifer Linforth

So. I was going to blog on opera until I added dates wrong in my third book and all hell broke loose. This led to the discovery of a major historical event that I now must write around. After much cussing and a husband who ran for the hills (for a dyscalculic author on a research rampage is never a pretty picture)I stumbled upon the farting man.

I will pause here to let that sink in.

Yes...the farting man. He was famous in 19th century Paris. So famous, he sold out the Moulin Rouge time and time again because of his unique--instrument.

Joseph Pujol was Le Petomane. He was an ordinary man, apprenticed to a baker at age 13, and owned his own business. While a young man in the national service, he entertained his friends by his unusual talent of inhaling water through his bum and shooting in out in a giant stream. Later he discovered he could do the same with just air.

If you can imagine for a moment a man headlining this act in a century where you didn't even speak of such things, let alone place them in print. But nonetheless, in 1892 Pujol convinced M. Vidler of the Moulin Rouge to put him on stage.

He wore a flamboyant costume of red and took the state prefacing each...act...with a description. Such as "this is a bride on her wedding night" (a small passing of air). Or..."this is a cannon" (loud thunderous...um...sound). Reports say the audience didn't know what to make of it until, once it settled in, they were rolling in the aisles in laughter. Women apparently had to be escorted outside for air. They were laughing so hard they were passing out in their corsets.

Pujol billed at the Moulin until 1914. Twenty-two years of farts. (Yes, I did that math right.) Upon his retirement, when he toured Europe and North Africa with his act, he settled in Toulon and opened a thriving biscuit factory.

You can't make this stuff up!

It all makes me wonder what the audience was thinking especially since this has been a important week for the stage. After all, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom sequel Love Never Dies premiered in London to rather unsatisfactory reviews. I wonder what folks were tweeting about as they sat through that show.

I lay odds if the folks were tweeting in their seats at Pujol's performance they'd say: "It's a gas."