Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Welcome to Weirdsville: The Performer of the Century

The house that night, and for many nights thereafter, is packed: the finest of Paris society crammed into the refinement of the Moulin Rouge, eagerly awaiting the star performer. White gowned “nurses” wait near the exists for those overcome by the performance, prepared to offer aid to anyone stricken by the evening’s entertainment.

To thunderous applause, the artist takes the stage. Clad in elegant coat, crimson pants, white stockings, gloves, and fine shoes, he cuts a dashing, if dated, visage in this age of Sarah Bernhard Sandra Bernhardt (thanks Matt!). In fact, this performer makes more than twice what that particular wooden-legged, coffin-sleeping, and death-performing actress earns. A fact that must have caused her no end of distress.

Though, safe to say, she also never attempted to to match his talent.

His act is simplicity itself, performed with a stoic dead-pan delivery that only increases the overall effect. Simple sounds for the most part, a repertoire of natural and artificial noises, and some childish tunes: a bill that would have never had made it into any program, in any age, but when performed by this certain gentlemen it drew in incredible crowds, and once even the King of Belgium.

While the message wasn’t unique, the medium certainly was; the tunes weren’t special, but the performer’s instrument absolutely was.

The sound of cannons echoed throughout the Moulin Rouge, then a precise imitation of tearing cloth, and more and more depictions of auditory talent performed through his tight-lipped smile, his lips never moving, sound never leaving his mouth.

Like many performers, Joseph Pujol practiced for many years before getting his big break, stepping into international stardom. His talent first manifested itself during a quick swim in the 1860’s, with a frightening experience of having chill water seemingly invade his body. Panicked, Joseph rushed to the shore, amazed to discover that he had managed to suck in many quarts of water ... through his anus.

If you’re a quick study you’ve already figured out how, many years later, Joseph would be able to wow the crowned heads of Europe and the highest echelons of society with his imitations and simple tunes. While without a doubt Pujol had a great deal of talent: his asshole was a genius.

Slowly, after the incident at the beach, Pujol discovered many strange and wondrous things about his particular orifice. He could take quart after quart of water and then project it in a powerful jet up to five yards, as well as take in great quantities of air and expel it with tremendous and theatrical skill.

At first he simply entertained his friends in Marseilles, but soon enough the floodlights called. Taking a few years to perfect his performance, Pujol hit the smaller towns first: packing them in and wowing them with his anal orchestrations. He hit Toulon, Brodeaux and many others to standing ovations.

Filled with confidence, Pujol embarked in 1892 to the seat of European theatrical magnificence: the one and only Moulin Rouge. The story of how he got onto its illustrious stage is almost as incredible as his anus, bursting with assurance, he marched right into Le Directeur’s office (Zidler or Oller, the accounts conflict) and performed right on the stop, and was on the stage that very night.

Taking the name Le Petomane (“The Fartiste” or “The Fart Artist”) In addition to his artillery and cloth tearing, Pujol also hilariously performed a wide range of gaseous imitations: the farting of a little girl, a wife, a mother-in-law and much more. After, Le Petomane would put one end of a long tube into his amazing anus and a cigarette in the other, and would stand there on the stage, merrily puffing away to the rolling hysterics of his audience. Then he’d play a couple of nice little ditties on his anus-flute, lead the audience in a sing-along, and then blow out the footlights.

Before you have to gall to ask, Le Petomane insisted that his emanations were odorless, though one has to but wonder if the front row seats were not, for his performances, considered the best.

Since some doubted his abilities, Le Petomane would also offer for male skeptics a private viewing of his talents, with Pujol wearing a special pair of breaches with a strategic hole. One, after all, must preserve one’s dignity.

Like all great artists, Le Petomane had his share of difficulties. In 1892 he made the mistake of being generous with his god-given talents by performing in front of a friend’s gingerbread store as free publicity. Hearing of this, Zidler/Oller slapped him with a hefty lawsuit. Outraged, Pujol refused to back down and (alas) some years later the Farter lost his suit, and had to shell out the sum of 3000 Francs. But Zidler/Oller would have a tarnished victory, as he had tried to pass off a fake, female, Le Petomane, who brought down the scorn of French society (who, one has to guess, had nothing better to do) when it was discovered that she was a fraud, and actually concealed a device under her voluminous skirts to achieve her gaseous act.

Le Petomane took his act on the road, leaving the Moulin Rouge behind. Traveling with many of his friends and family under the tent of Theatre Pompadour, Pujol wowed them all over Europe: farting to packed houses and breaking wind to standing ovations.

In 1914 however, the curtain closed on Le Petomane: the capture by the Germans of son and the critical wounding of two others in World War I took the wind out of his sails, and the air out of his anus. Stepping out of the spotlight, Pujol moved with his extensive family to Toulon where he prospered as a baker. Surrounded by many children and grandchildren, Pujol passed away in 1945.

To this day, the specter of Pujol seems to lurk just on the other side of popularity: Howard Stern, tasteless cinema, they all seem pale shadows compared to the maestro of emanations, the Paganini of flatulence. His place in the hall of theatre remains untouched.

To Le Petomane we look up to the heights of what can be done by that most maligned of body activities: Joseph Pujol we salute you, and may your gaseous passing always inspire us.


Anonymous said...

Great post on a great talent. One quibble, I think you meant "Sarah Bernhardt", not Sandra. Although the thought of Sandra Bernhardt back in the Victorian Era is an intriguing one.

M.Christian said...

Thanks for the spot, Matt -- I've fixed it.