Episode 94 - Old Bobby Fartypants (Showmen Week)
Tom's Notes: Joseph Pujol
I started this week’s research committing myself fully to a chap called Edward Kelley. I thought to myself, this guy’s story is going to funny and fascinating. Then I began to read some of his works from the 16th century, and I realised that I could not be arsed. Let me now discuss him as an honorary mention.
Edward Kelley was a Welshmen who lived during the second half of the 16th century. He fits into the theme of showmen because he was a complete charlatan who made a living spouting shite to dumb posh people. Well at least that’s how history remembers him - I could easily believe that his intentions were genuine. He’s a great example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
He was basically an alchemist who devoted his life to making base metals into gold. Something he wasn’t very good at. Now I wanted to go straight for his work, which is easily accessed online, and things started promisingly. One chapter of his is called The Humid Way, or a Discourse on the Vegetable Menstruum of Saturn. This chapter heading is doubly amusing and surreal when one assumes that the word menstruum refers to a lady’s time of the month. Do vegetables menstruate? one might shout from the back of the audience. Do vegetables exist on Saturn another eager listener might question. Well, fools, menstruum is an archaic word for a solvent. Now when you re-read the title, it makes much more sense, listen, The Humid Way, or a Discourse on the Vegetable Solvent of Saturn. Oh, that makes much more sense.
I still sense Sam that you are thinking, this is gold, well, almost gold, what could possibly go wrong with this source? Well, let me quote part of it and then we can all agree that this is total nonsense that Tom cannot be arsed trying to wade through to find fart jokes and French accents.
Of these elements two, viz., fire and water, are active, while two, earth and air, are passive. Fire and water strive to unite them- selves to earth, but can do so only by means of the qualities which they have in common with it, i.e., in the case of fire, dryness, and, in the case^ of water, coldness. So fire and water introduce themselves into earth by means of their dryness and coldness, ' and into air by means of their heat and moisture. Now, according as earth is more or less dry or cold, its centre will be occupied either by fire or water, while the other active element will be confined to its circumference. In the former case, the inborn dryness or heat of the fire being invisible and intangible, and residing, as it were, at the heart of the earth, will escape obser- vation, but the humidity of the water, being more tangible and nearer to the surface, will be more easily noticed. '1'he surface of this compound will thus be watery, cold, and dry ; and such is the substance which is commonly called quicksilver.
So anyway, that’s Edward Kelley for you, nutcase alchemist. Incomprehensible garbler.
Having been disappointed by Edward Kelley. I decided to about turn and go somewhere where fart jokes and French accents are abundant, Joseph Pujol, a man who headlined the Moulin Rouge in the late 19th century and pulled bigger crowds than the famous stage performer Sarah Bernhardt. A charismatic and suave Frenchman from Marseille with coiffured hair and a regal moustache. A man who was always dressed very smartly. A dignified man.
So what was Pujol’s act I hear you cry? Well his stage name was Le Petomane, which translates roughly as Fartomanic. Yes, he was a flatulist!
He was a fartomaniac
He would play flutes out of his ass
He could fart on demand
In time with brass bands
He was fartomain-ee
Those are all facts.
As the story has it, Pujol discovered he have a cavernous, breathing arsehole when as a child he went for a swim in the sea and felt a rather cold sensation in his abdomen. He rushed ashore, confused by what was going on, and then managed to release a few litres of salt water from his bottom. And so greatness was born.
His trick was that he could inhale air into his arsehole and expel it on demand. He didn’t have the digestive system of a cow. Early on in his life this ‘talent’ (and I have written that word in inverted commas in my notes) was something he showed his chums in the army. You know, blokes sitting around in the mess, talking arseholes. It’s was real men do. You know, sucking 2 litres of a water into your arse and then squirting it across the canteen. Man fun.
A little later he became a baker where his talent impressed and amused customers. I’ll be honest, not for me. I’d rather just have me baguette and be off. I don’t want someone parping La Marseillaise with a twinkle in his eye. It’s worth pointing out at this point that I painted a picture of Pujol as a smart and charismatic man. I sort of exaggerated this for comic effect. He did indeed perform on stage in a smart outfit, presumably because it was funny juxtaposed with him farting, but I have seen a few pictures of him where he looks like a cross between Office Crabtree and Eric Cantona. Interestingly, if you watch that footage of Cantona kicking a Crystal Palace fan with the volume up, you can here Cantona farting frère Jacque. He is a rather creepy looking mono-browed man who I wouldn’t want baguettes off regardless of his bowel hobbies.
When Pujol realised that he was sitting on a rear that could make him millions, he hired a stage in Marseille and started strutting his guff. Much like a stand-up today would go along to an open mic night. Oh and boy did Pujol take off, not literally, he was good but not that good. News spread like the buttocks of a French flatulist and before long, he was selling out venues.
Pujol decided that the next step was gay Paris. He got in touch with the man who ran the Moulin Rouge, a chap called Charles Zidler. Imagine the audition. “What’s your act boyo, (yes, this a Frenchmen with a Chicago accent who enjoys Welsh colloquialisms)”, “Well, you see, I can fart on demand.” “I don’t believe it, it’s impossible! And besides, the stench, it would be horrendous, I won’t, I can’t…” “FART voulez vous coucher avec moi”. “God damn! Your headlining tonight! Popty ping.”
So what could Pujol actually do? What was his act?
Well, he did farty impressions. He impersonated a lady on her wedding night, a mother in law, cannon fire, famous people and animals.
He blew out candles, he smoked cigarettes, he played the ocarina and had the audience sing along. He also farted in time with songs.
He could apparently make sounds like letters of the alphabet. He really worked hard on his art this guy!
He really was a hit and performed throughout the world. There is rumour that nurses had to be stationed in the aisles because women in corsets laughed so hard that they feinted.
His appeal was obviously in the fact that farts are inherently funny, but more specifically, his audience were middle to upper class Parisians and what he was doing was ridiculously coarse and shocking. It’s the same juxtaposition as mentioned earlier. Man farts in a classy establishment for the rich. I read some articles by academics totally overanalysing why he was so popular and one thing that is stressed is the class-based humour. I’ll be honest, making a loud fart and pretending it’s a mother in law doesn’t sound particularly nuanced to me.
He had some very famous people watch his show too, including that notoriously funny King Leopold II of Belgium. You know the problem with the Congolese, they just don’t get a good joke do they? Interestingly, the phrase, ‘crimes against humanity’ was apparently coined by an American chap called George Washington Williams in a pamphlet in 1890 condemning Leopold’s behaviour in the Congo Free State (just another joke from old Leopold).
Things turned a bit sour with the Moulin Rouge at the end of the 19th Century when firstly the Moulin Rouge sued Puyol for establishing his own theatre company and parping over there. Secondly, Puyol sued the Moulin Rouge for replacing him with lady farter who was a complete fraud and used bellows.
At the start of the First World War, the curtains fell on Puyol’s arse, and he retired to run a bakery again. After the war he expressed an interest in returning to the halcyon days, but he felt that French humour had changed. He continued to maintain his anus habits, namely regular enemas (during his show career, he did this prior to shows so that the theatre didn’t become too fusty).
A short film was made about him in 1979 starring Leonard Rossiter, an old English comedy actor. There’s been a best-selling book about him. A character is named after him in Blazing Saddles (the dumb mayor) and he apparently makes a very fleeting appearance in the film Moulin Rouge.