Joseph Pujol was born in Marseille. He was one of the 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 would 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 this and repeated it for their amusement. He then found that he could do the same with air. Although a baker by profession, Pujol decided to try his talent on the stage, and debuted in Marseille in 1887. Successful, he proceeded to Paris, where he took the act to the Moulin Rouge.
Some of the highlights of his stage act involved playing a flute through a rubber tube in his anus and farting sound effects of cannon fire and thunderstorms. The climax of his act involved him farting his impression of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
With the outbreak of World War I, Pujol 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 in the Var departement, where his grave can still be seen today.
A present-day comedian employing the same effect is Mr. Methane.
A short humorous film about his life, entitled Le Petomane starred Leonard Rossiter.