For your Friday history lesson, via the incomparable Cecil Adams:
I think it’s poetically appropriate that Joseph Pujol, better known as Le Petomane (which we may loosely translate as “the fartiste”) should emanate from France, without doubt the most pretentious nation on the face of the earth. Le Petomane performed his unique act from 1887 to 1914, and became one of his country’s best-known vaudevillians. At one point he was earning 20,000 francs a week, compared to 8,000 for his contemporary Sarah Bernhardt. The true artistic priorities of the French public are thus admirably revealed.
Joseph Pujol, born in Marseilles in 1857, owed his remarkable career to an extraordinary ability to control the muscles of his abdomen and anus. As a youth he discovered he could take in via the rectum as much as two liters of water, which he could then expel at will. Later he found he could do the same thing with air. At first he employed this talent solely for the entertainment of his friends, obviously a very refined and intelligent bunch, but after working quietly for some years as a baker, he was encouraged to give public performances. The first of these, in Marseilles in 1887, met with some initial skepticism, petomanie (“fartistry”) being something of a novelty even for the French, but within a few days Le Petomane’s winning manner and solidly professional performance had won audiences over. From then on it was one triumph after another.
(click to continue reading The Straight Dope: Did a French vaudeville star once specialize in trained flatulence?.)
Alrighty then. Viva la France!