Moist with His Own Petard
by Michael Patrick O'Leary
The phrase “hoist with his own petard” comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Let it work;
For ’tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petar’; and ‘t shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon: O, ’tis most sweet,
When in one line two crafts directly meet.
Petard comes from the Middle French peter, to fart. Petard is a modern French word, meaning a firecracker.
The petard was a device filled with gunpowder fixed to a wooden base used to blow a hole in fortifications to allow assault troops to enter.
Modern usage means “to be harmed by one’s own plan to harm someone else” or “to fall into one’s own trap,” implying that one could be lifted up (hoist, or blown upward) by one’s own bomb.
Joseph Pujol, professionally known as Le Petomane, who lived from 1857 to 1945 and was a great success at the Moulin Rouge between 1892 and 1900.
Marcel Pagnol, author of Manon des Sources, probably did not meet Pujol but knew of his prowess and success and compared Sarah Bernhardt’s box office receipts of 8,000 francs with Pujol’s of 20,000.
Yvette Guilbert, the entertainer famous from Toulouse Lautrec’s posters, told the story of how a sad, pale-faced man approached the Director of the Moulin Rouge, Charles Zidler, saying that he was a phenomenon and that his gift would be the talk of Paris.
When asked to explain this gift, Pujol replied that his anus was of such elasticity that he could open and shut it at will. He seemed offended when Zidler asked him if he was saying that his gift consisted merely of being able to fart at will. Pujol demonstrated tenor, baritone, bass and one he called ‘the mother-in-law’.
Zidler cried out in delight, ‘You mean you sing through your backside!’
Zidler engaged him and billed him as Le Petomane, the name Pujol had thought up for himself many years before.
Le Petomane came onstage dressed in a red coat and black satin breeches with a slit at the back, black patent pumps and white gloves in the hand. He was six foot two tall and solidly built with black cropped hair and a bushy moustache. He performed at a crouch with a deadpan expression on his face which suggested he was unaware of his incongruities. His vocalisations caused something like mass hysteria according to eye-witness reports. Women shrieked hysterically, encouraging the performer, who, in turn, urged them to join in the chorus. The management incited the hysteria by placing uniformed nurses in the hall to carry out members of the audience overcome by delirium.
As well as playing various melodies and running through the tonic sol-fa, he could imitate other famous performers. His versatile rectum could imitate the violin and the trombone. He announced the mason’s round fart and the timid little fart of the young girl. The repertoire included the bride on her wedding night (quiet) and the morning after (very loud); the dressmaker tearing calico and then cannon. He could modulate the sound from the almost inaudible to the sharpest and most prolonged. Apparently there was no smell. As part of his spiel he would say “my parents ruined themselves scenting my rectum”. He would place a yard-long rubber enema tube in his rear and then place a lit cigarette from which he would blow smoke rings. That would be followed by a few bars of Au Claire de la lune on a specially-designed flute. He finished his act by blowing out a candle or several gas jets in the footlights.
A Farter’s Life
Pujol was born in Marseille of parents of Catalan origin. Today there is a street in his home town in the Quartier Saint Charles Chuttes-Lavie named after him.
Pujol first discovered his gift when he was bathing in the sea as a child and inadvertently drew sea water into his anus and ejected it. As an adult doing military service, he told his comrades about the incident and they persuaded him to try it again.
He also practised drawing air instead of water into his rectum and produced a fart fantasia which delighted his comrades who said they should be re-categorised from cuirassiers to a regiment of artillery.
After military service he worked as a baker but also performed comic songs and played the trombone in the music halls.
Following his success at the Moulin Rouge he also gave private performances at which he would be paid by collection. One evening a man in full formal dress and a monocle gave him a 20 franc golden coin. Pujol asked how much change to give and the man said, ‘keep it all. I am the King of the Belgians.’ This was Leopold, scourge of the Congo.
He was a raging success in Belgium. He was offered the equivalent of 1,500 GBP per performance in Madrid. He also performed in Algiers and Cairo and Tunis.
This travelling gave him the idea of forming his own roving theatre, which he did when he lost a law suit brought by the Moulin Rouge whose management objected to him giving free performances for his friends in the market. The Moulin Rouge still had an audience of fartophiles to satisfy and engaged a female performer to replace Pujol but she was discovered to be using bellows to create her effects.
Pujol’s new venture, Theatre Pompadour also featured other acts, with himself as top of the bill. He added imitations of birds and animals to his repertoire as well as verses written by him and set to music. His children were brought in to take part in mime dramas.
The war which began in 1914 brought an end to the career of Le Petomane. He went back to the baking trade and eventually established a substantial biscuit factory. He lived through two wars, dying in 1945 at the age of 88.
The Faculty of Medicine offered 25,000 francs for the right to examine his body but his family refused the offer.