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Dear Matthew Alice:

A friend of mine has been trying to convince me that there was once a vaudeville performer whose act consisted of nothing but farting. My friend prides himself on knowing strange facts, most of which at least seem plausible. But this one I won't believe until you tell me it's true.

-- Ralph W., San Diego

It's true, assuming simulated farting counts. Between the late 1880s and 1914, Joseph Pujol, a Frenchman who called himself Le Petomane ("the fart artist," from petard, fart) cashed in big on a peculiar physical skill -- the ability to command his abdominal and rectal muscles to do weird and wonderful things. He sucked volumes of air into his rectum, then expelled it again in various melodic ways. He did fart impressions, smoked a cigarette, blew out candles, played tunes on an ocarina, and generally wowed audiences in Europe and America. A late-Victorian-era Benny Hill, apparently. And another clue to help explain why French audiences love Jerry Lewis movies.

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