One complaint you often hear about modern comedy is, “Why does it have to be so vulgar? Can’t comedians be funny without all that bathroom humor?! Or bedroom humor?! Or some nightmarish combination of the two?!” Back in the good old days, these hypothetical critics say, comedians worked clean, and comedy was so much better.
Well, it might be time to rethink our mental image of the good old days. Because it turns out there was a French comedian whose whole thing was literally just farting onstage. Seriously! He was called Le Petomaine and he was the highest paid performer in Europe not named Houdini. And today, we bring you his story.
Le Petomaine was born in 1857 under the name Joseph Pujol, the son of a bricklayer in Marseilles. While swimming at a young age, he discovered he had a special talent: the ability to suck in and blow out water and air with his rectum. He would use this special ability to entertain his friends in the army. Later, when he left the army and opened a bakery, he would entertain his customers by imitating musical instruments or animals with his farts.
By the way, a fart-centric performer named “Pujol” might be the best name/job pairing of all time. Nominative determinism strikes again!
Like most people with an innate ability to perform, Pujol’s friends encouraged him to try it out onstage, and soon he found himself headlining at the famous Paris cabaret, the Moulin Rouge. There, he became known as “Le Petomaine,” which literally means “The Gas Maniac.” Internationally, he was known as “The Fartiste.”
Le Petomaine would appear onstage in a full tuxedo with a cape and white gloves, and get down to farting. It was during this period that his fart-creativity flourished, and his act had several different farting routines, like:
-Blowing out candles.
-Farting into an ocarina to play songs like “La Solo Mio” and the French national anthem.
-Imitating thunderstorms and cannons.
-Smoking cigarettes out of his butt.
-And, a five-minute sequence where he re-enacted the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. This was his closer, obviously.
People couldn’t get enough.
He was one of the biggest stars of his day, earning 20,000 francs a week and performing for luminaries like King Edward VII of England and Sigmund Freud. At one point, after a contractual dispute with the Moulin Rouge, Le Petomaine decided to form his own traveling theater company called Theater Pompadour. Was he a big enough draw to succeed without Moulin Rouge? You know he was!
In fact, he was so big he had copycats. That’s right, he made so much money that a bunch of imitators tried to cash in on all that fart comedy money. Here’s an early video recording of one such fartiste, made by the one and only Thomas Edison:
But nothing lasts forever. When World War I rolled around, and the horrors of war made Le Petomaine lose his appetite for performing, and he retired. (Thanks a lot, Kaiser Wilhelm.) He returned to his bakery, later opened a biscuit factory, and he passed away in 1945 at the age of 88.
The world mourned his passing.
If you’re like me, you’re picturing all the big starts of 1940’s Europe gathering to pay tribute by farting some of Le Petomaine’s best farts.
Even though many of us in the US might not be familiar with Le Petomaine, he left behind quite a legacy. He’s been portrayed in numerous books, plays, musicals, and films. As recently as the 1990’s, Johnny Depp was considering starring in a Petomaine biopic, saying “[Le Petomane] was a true artist. That’s a role I’d play in a minute.”
So the next time someone complains about comedy being too vulgar, you can tell them the French used to worship a farting comedian.
h/t: Messy Nessy Chic