(An excerpt from an ongoing essay that will be adapted for the stage show)

The Great Pujol

The Nineteenth century is generally thought of as the most prim and repressive of eras, but even so, the fin de siécle saw a performance career that could not be imagined today. I refer to that of Joseph Pujol, known as Le Patomane (“the fart maniac”). His astounding feats of controlled flatulence packed the Moulin Rouge in Paris in the 1890s and made him the highest paid performer in France.

He could draw as much as two quarts of air into his anal cavity (as measured by one Dr. Marcel Baudouin in 1892). He blew out candles from several feet and wowed audiences by farting out popular tunes, as well as snatches from operas.

His comic impersonations of the farts of well known public figures—including the president of the Republic—had audiences rolling in the aisles. When his audience was worked up to a fevered pitch the debonair performer would pause for a cigarette, before serenading them with various wind instruments.

His fans included composers Ravel and Faure, painters Renoir and Matisse, Sigmund Freud, Edward Prince of Wales, and Leopold II King of the Belgians. His memory was revered by Jean-Paul Sartre and Salvador Dalí pronounced him the greatest artist of the 20th century.

Certainly Pujol’s accomplishments far exceeded natural impulse, but his admirers must have felt something analogous to what a prisoner feels when admiring a bird that freely turns arabesques in the sky beyond his cell.