The Mad Farter or “Le Pétomane”

I have a really interesting, if somewhat wacky, story for you that I discovered on our holiday trip to Paris…

The Mad Farter

Joseph Pujol, le pétomane

I’m sure we’ve all heard of the Moulin Rouge in Paris, the historic cabaret topped by a red windmill, which is famous for its can-can dancers. But do you know who was their highest paid performer at the end of the 19th century? His name was Joseph Pujol and he had a very peculiar talent. He could fart on demand and in various tones, even playing songs.

Monsieur Pujol, who was born in Marseille, France in 1857, had the unusual ability to take in air (or water) at will through his bottom. Then through muscle control he was able to regulate the speed and force of the expulsion. He first discovered that his posterior was different from those of other young men, one summer when he went swimming in the sea. As he was preparing to plunge his head under water, he took a deep breath and contracted his abdominal muscles. Suddenly he felt his insides fill with cold water. Of course, he was terrified and rushed to the shore. He and others were amazed as he stood on the beach with water pouring out of his behind like a faucet. The doctor examined him and assured him that he was fine. So, of course, he started to practice and develop his newfound talent.

The Human Water Fountain

Joseph was born to perform. Even as a child, he would sing, dance and play trombone for visitors to his parents’ home. So it was only natural that he wanted to show off his newly discovered skill every chance he got. During his time in the army, he further developed his talents while entertaining his comrades-in-arms. He would imitate a fountain, taking in water through his bum and then shooting it high into the air. Soon he discovered that his ability wasn’t limited to water, and that he could also inhale and exhale air through his bottom. This allowed him to enlarge his repertoire by adding “music” and impressions.

It was also while in the army that Joseph acquired the nickname that would later become his stage name. He was called Le Pétomane which came from two French words: péter (to fart) and maniaque. This translates to something like “The Mad Farter”.

Moulin Rouge, Pétomane

Musical Career

After the army, Joseph returned to Marseille where he worked as a baker, often entertaining customers with his hidden talents. However, he yearned for a larger audience, so he left the bakery and took to the stage with his trombone. But soon he discovered that the audience preferred his other wind instrument. His flatulent act became a big hit in Marseille, and he decided to try his luck in Paris.

In Paris, the Moulin Rouge, which had just been open for a few years, was anxious to put him under contract – and a windmill seemed just the place for his windy act. He was an instant success and people laughed so hard during his performances that some passed out – especially the women who were strapped into their corsets so tightly that when they went into fits of laughter, they could no longer breathe. Nurses had to be on duty in the theatre when the Le Pétomane was performing to take care of those who passed out from having too much fun.

A Fartistic Show

Monsieur Pujol would appear on stage in his suit looking quite sophisticated. He would explain to the audience that the wind he was about to produce was completely odourless and that no one could say his show stank. Then he went on to entertain them with imitations of thunderstorms, cannons, and simple musical renditions. Later in the act, he would step offstage and connect a long tube to his derriere through a special discreet opening in the back of his trousers. Using this tube he would smoke two cigarettes at once – one with his mouth and one through his… tube. He would also blow out candles from an impressive distance before attaching a small flute to the tube to play more tunes.


To prove that there was no trickery, he gave performances (for men only) in his underwear which was fitted with a hole in the back large enough for the men to verify that the performance was real. He also gave private performances to those who didn’t want to be seen publicly enjoying his low-brow humour, such as the Prince of Wales (the future king Edward VII of England) and King Leopold II of Belgium.

Trouble at the Windmill

During the two years he was at the Moulin Rouge (1892-1894), he was a great success, even earning a higher fee than Sarah Bernhardt. But this all came to an end when, at the request of a friend, Joseph gave a performance at a fair. The Moulin Rouge saw this as a breach of contract and took him to court. When Joseph lost the case and had to pay damages, he and the red windmill parted ways.

The Moulin Rouge had won the case, but they had lost their biggest money-maker. They soon replaced Joseph by a female version of Le Pétomane. However, unlike Joseph, her talent was not a natural gift. She had a concealed bellow-like device beneath her skirts. Joseph was furious when he heard of this and he went back to court, this time to accuse the Moulin Rouge of trickery. He was declared the only true pétomane when the imposter was exposed.

Joseph was vindicated and went on to open his own theatre where he performed his flatulent act for another twenty years. Then in 1914, when the First World War broke out, he retired from the stage and returned to Marseille. At first he worked in a bakery and later bought a biscuit factory in Toulon.

He died in 1945 at the age of 88 near Toulon. Even after all those years, his special talent had not been forgotten and a Parisian medical school offered to buy his body so they could study his curious anatomy. But the family refused and he rests today in the cemetery of La Valette-du-Var. 

* More about France – You can read more stories like this in my book Berets, Baguettes, and Beyond.


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Below is a Youtube video from a 1979 comedy film based on Le Pétomane.

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The Mad Farter
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Margo Lestz


  1. I love this story. Le Petomane’s story is one of those amazing, weird tales that makes Parisian history so rich. I wrote a post about him a couple of months about him too but I’d love to know more about his fraudulent female replacement. Who was she and what happened to her? Her story must be just as fascinating but I couldn’t find out much about her. Was a pleasure to read this. Am very much enjoying following your blog.

    1. I think it’s such a funny story because we tend to think that the French have such sophisticated tastes. This sure does away with that idea. 😉
      I liked your article as well and I’m very happy to have discovered your blog too. Thanks for commenting!

  2. This was just so funny..something that embarrasses most people, he went on to make a huge success of himself with his special talent. Great story..thank you!!!

    1. I guess there is a place for everyone’s talent… whatever it might be. 😉 I just wonder what his wife said when someone asked what work her husband did. Was she embarrassed or proud?

  3. I love this story. Not the kind of things that we were taught at school when I was growing up in France.
    Wonderful that this man could make good use of his unusual talent …even if dear Queen Victoria was not amused!
    Thanks for this very entertaining post.

    1. I’m not surprised you didn’t learn about him in school. I don’t think this is the kind of example that teachers want to present to young childen (especially the boys)! Can you imagine? – all of them would want to be pétomanes when they grew up! Yikes! 😉

    1. Hi Janet. Well, you know, the world is full of wierd and wonderfuf things, we just have to look for them. 😉 Hope you had wonderful holidays and I hope that 2015 will be a great year for you and yours!
      Warm wishes, Margo

  4. Margo, I love this! Truly wacky, only the French could make even farting seem sophisticated… I’ll never think of that windmill in quite the same way!

    And, I’ll be happy to head over to Amazon – should have thought to do that myself. Thanks for the tip!

    1. Thanks Jonelle. I guess we are all a bit like Monsieur Pujol – we just have to make the best of what we have to work with. No matter how odd our “gift” may seem, we just have to find the right audience. 😉
      Thanks for your support.
      Best, Margo

  5. I’m delighted I came across your site and was wondering if you or any of your readers can give me some advice about recruitment in France. I’m working for a company that is looking to expand into Nice and was wondering if anyone had any advice on the best places to advertise locally. We are looking for English speaking business managers so any advice would be greatly appreciated. We’ve advertised on Linkedin and but haven’t had much luck attracting the right applicants.

  6. Margo, I came to this very late and again am amazed by your breadth of knowledge. I must *blushing* admit I might be one of those who fainted from laughing. This is hilarious!

  7. Hi Patricia, Laughing is good for you so just go ahead and laugh! 😉 It’s so funny to me that this was a form of entertainment. I guess before television and internet they just had to do the best they could. Glad you enjoyed it.

  8. I suffer from bloating, I don’t fart all day, but sometimes I need to fart very much, especially when I’m in bed!! 😳 Maybe if I eat an entire can of beans or chickpeas, I can fart just like Le Petomane!! 😂 However I’m glad that there are women like you who think farts are funny and that don’t give you dirty looks for loud farts you did cause you had a lot of gas in your belly (my farts aren’t smelly, but they are almost always louds)!! Sorry for my bad english, I’m italian! 😉

    1. Hi John,
      Are you musical at all? Maybe you have a new career in your future. Could you be the Italian Petomano? 🙂
      If not, you might want go to the Pharmacy for some anti-gas meds… 😉
      Thanks for commenting.
      All the best! -Margo

  9. I’m not musical like he was…only rarely I did a musical note with some fart! 😂 I only do loud farts and I can’t fart on command like he did! However I’m allergic to some plants, so I’m afraid to take the charcoal! And I don’t take the bethanechol cause it isn’t recommended to those who suffer from asthma, and when I was a child I had just asthma! 😳 And I can’t even take the simethicone cause I’m allergic to its active ingredient! So I’ve to keep the problem unfortunately, but if people were all like you, mine would no longer be a problem! 😃 Now I’m single, but when I’ll have a girlfriend, she had to be including on farts obviously…it’s one of first things I see in the temperament of a girl!!

    Sorry for the error, is my Email address, so I’m John86 obviously! 😉

  10. Margo, I could not resist sending this to you… it just seems so, well, French!

    This comes from Rachel Being Chatty

    Read on and let us know if you can find out if this is a spoof or real- if anyone can, I would put my bet with you! 😉 (I haven’t left you many comments recently but I am still actively following and loving all your musing!

    “And you thought France was only good for fries, toast, and democracy.

    I would have put this under the “Terrible Inventions” category, but honestly, this sounds wonderful. Blessed relief. That is, if it works. The world will find out.

    This practically life-saving product is the creation of Christian Poincheval, a 65-year-old inventor who could be Santa Claus’s twin, if he had watched too many episodes of Cheech and Chong and ate pot-infused pizza. Seriously, look up his picture. He looks like Hippie Claus.

    This wasn’t his first invention. He’s also created pills that make farts smell like roses or violets. There’s also a fart-reducing powder for pets. Yeah, pretty much without flatulence, this guy is outta business. It’s kind of like the janitor. There’s a need, and someone has gotta do it.

    It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, during which Poincheval made some interesting discoveries.

    “When we were vegetarian, we noticed that our gas smelt like vegetables, like the odor from a cow pat, but when we started eating meat, the smell of the flatulence became much disagreeable,” he told TheLocal.Fr in a Pepe Le Pew accent. “We needed to invent something that made them smell nicer.” Typical problem-solving minded man. Sometimes, women just want to complain about their flatulence and want you to listen, not try to solve it for us.

    Poincheval claims his pills not only create chocolate-scented farts, they reduce intestinal gas and bloating thanks to ingredients like vegetable coal, fennel, seaweed, plant resin, bilberry, and cacao zest. None of those are real. All of those ingredients sound like a Fantasy Hobbit Pie from The Lord of the Rings or something.

    Poincheval figures his chocolate fart pills should be stuffed in stockings. I hope the kids are able to tell which item is real chocolate.

    “Some buy them because they have problems with flatulence, and some buy them as a joke to send to their friends. Christmas always sees a surge in sales,” he said. He should know; he’s in Santa’s family.

    It makes sense. Technically, entrepreneur was originally a French word. Forget cutting the mustard or cutting the cheese . . . now you can cut the chocolate.”

    1. Hi Jonelle, it’s nice to hear from you.
      This is really funny, and actually a pretty good idea. 🙂 I’d rather smell chocolate or roses than some of the other smells that come out of people. And it does look like it’s a real product -developed right here in la belle France. Hope it takes off.
      Thanks for sharing.

  11. Oh my gosh, unreal! It seems so far-fetched that someone could reliably pass that much gas. I feel bad for the ladies in their corsets who laughed so hard they couldn’t breathe! But glad they got a good laugh out of it. Nuts! Thanks for the interesting story! #allaboutfrance

  12. Um, what an unusual talent, and full marks to M. Pujol for exploiting it so profitably. 🙂 Not entirely sure I’d have wanted to attend a live show, especially if he was producing fountain effects from his rear end. Leonard Rossiter was the perfect person to play the Petomane in the film.

    As a pupil at a genteel Roman Catholic boarding school, I learned to belch to order, which I can still do, when asked, which isn’t often. One of the older girls claimed that she could produce rear-end gas at will and set fire to it. However, you had to pay 6d. if you wanted to watch, and I didn’t have 6d. so I can’t say if it was true or not. 🙂

    1. Well, it sounds like you have an unusual talent too… Ever thought of charging people for your performances? Maybe a new career path? 😉

  13. Margo you have a knack for finding the most absurd, ridiculous, funny stories and I think this just takes the cake! If I was wearing a corset I think I’d have passed out reading this. What an amazing “talent” to have, Monsieur Pétomane must have been quite a character. Thanks for joining in with #AllAboutFrance, I’m quite sure I could never have predicted having a story about a champion farter link up!

    1. Glad you had a good laugh, Phoebe… Also glad you weren’t wearing a corset and didn’t pass out! You just never know what will turn up on those #AllAboutFrance Linkies! 😉

  14. I feel my life enriched by this information thank you Margo! Super! Also, having been inclined to believe all these years that “this is just a MALE thing” seems from ‘merewoman’ that there are versatile girls too!!

    1. So happy to have contributed to the enrichment of your life, Lisa. 🙂
      Men, women, children… who knows how many “talented” people out there are hiding their abilities?

  15. What a fantastic story! I have told my kids about it and I think they will probably spend the next few weeks trying to suck water in through their backsides in the bath…

  16. I’m afraid that you had me at ‘fart’. Anything to do with bodily functions makes me laugh. Except on aeroplanes of course, when they are sitting next to you. Great story and told with restraint 🙂

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