Joseph Pujol was born in Marseille. He was one of five children of François (a stonemason and sculptor) and Rose Pujol. Soon after he left school he had a strange experience while swimming in the sea. He put his head under the water and held his breath, whereupon he felt an icy cold penetrating his rear. He ran ashore in fright and was amazed to see water pouring from his anus. A doctor assured him that there was nothing to worry about.
When he joined the army he told his fellow soldiers about his special ability, and repeated it for their amusement, sucking up water from a pan into his rectum and then projecting it through his anus up to several yards. He then found that he could suck in air as well. Although a baker by profession, Pujol would entertain his customers by imitating musical instruments, and claim to be playing them behind the counter. Pujol decided to try his talent on the stage, and debuted in Marseille in 1887. After his act proved successful, he proceeded to Paris, where he took the act to the Moulin Rouge in 1892.
Some of the highlights of his stage act involved sound effects of cannon fire and thunderstorms, as well as playing 'O Sole Mio and La Marseillaise on an ocarina through a rubber tube in his anus. He could also blow out a candle from several yards away. His audience included Edward, Prince of Wales, King Leopold II of the Belgians and Sigmund Freud.
In 1894, the managers of the Moulin Rouge sued Pujol for an impromptu exhibition he gave to aid a friend struggling with economic difficulties. For the measly sum of 3,000 francs (Pujol's usual fee being 20,000 francs per show), the Moulin Rouge lost their star attraction, who proceeded to set up his own traveling show called the Theatre Pompadour.
In the following decade Pujol tried to 'refine' and make his acts 'gentler'; one of his favourite numbers became a rhyme about a farm which he himself composed, and which he punctuated with the usual anal renditions of the animals' sounds. The climax of his act however involved him farting his impression of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
With the outbreak of World War I, Pujol, horrified by the inhumanity of the conflict, retired from the stage and returned to his bakery in Marseille. Later he opened a biscuit factory in Toulon. He died in 1945, aged 88, and was buried in the cemetery of La Valette-du-Var, where his grave can still be seen today. The Sorbonne offered his family a large sum of money to study his body after his death, but they refused the offer.
Los Angeles-based Sherbourne Press published Le Petomane as a small hardcover edition in 1967, providing national distribution and advertising. Due to its ‘sensitive' nature, the usual national publicity venues shied away, some claiming that an author was needed for interviews (both elderly writers lived in France). However, ‘behind the curtain' acceptance created a buzz within the national radio/TV promotional circuit and word-of-mouth discussion kept the book in stores for several years.
A 2008 children's book about his life called The Fartiste written by Kathleen Krull & Paul Brewer and illustrated by Boris Kulikov.
There is a musical based on his life called The Fartiste which was awarded Best Musical at the 2006 New York International Fringe Festival.
Ricky Jay discusses Le Petomane in his book Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women.
A present-day comedian employing the same effect is Mr. Methane.
A 1979 short humorous film about his life, entitled Le Petomane, starred Leonard Rossiter.
The Italian movie 'Il Petomane', starring Ugo Tognazzi, gives a poetic rendition of the character, contrasting his deep longing for normalcy with the condition of 'freak' to which his act relegated him.
The 1999 Kinky Friedman novel, Spanking Watson, makes frequent reference to Le Petomane.
"Le Pétomane: Parti Avec Le Vent", a 2005 short film based on Pujol's life, stars Ben Wise. It was written, produced and directed by Steve Ochs.
"Le Petomane" is the title of a 1998 documentary by Igor Vamos that examines Joseph Pujol's place in history through archival films, historical documents, photographs, and interviews.
In his 1974 movie Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks plays the part of "Governor William J. Le Petomane".
Le Petomane was the name of a character in Sarah Bynum's novel Madeleine is Sleeping.
Johnny Depp has mentioned frequently in interviews that he wishes to portray Pujol in a film.
In the Two And A Half Men episode "That Voodoo That I Do" the dance studio is called "les petites petomanes" in his honour.
One of the Hobo Names in John Hodgman's book The Areas of My Expertise is Whistlin' Anus LePetomane
In the Nickelodeon cartoon Rugrats episode "Momma Trauma" (season 1, episode 7), a psychologist's name is Dr. Lepetomaine. In Kevin Gilbert's final musical work, The Shaming of the True, credit for the horn parts is attributed to "The Le Petomane Ensemble".