The Fartiste: Off-Broadway Play About Fart Artist Joseph Pujol Opens
A crowd has formed and waits with bated breath for what's next from a diminutive lad who can break wind on command and has already used his behind to play a trumpet.
It's not fifth grade recess nor a South Park episode. No, it's a scene from "The Fartiste," an off-Broadway musical based on the true story of Joseph Pujol who exercised supercontrol of his sphincter and developed his special skill into a noisemaking stage act that commanded top dollar during the late 19th century in the Moulin Rouge.
It might be lowbrow humor at its lowest, but it gets laughs. Why? Unfortunately the cast and crew can't say. You just have to have an open mind ... and open nostrils.
"I love fart jokes and I think that everyone should," said Charlie Schulman, who wrote the show's book. "It's one of those things in life that makes people laugh, but I don't know why."
More flatulent sound effects fill the air of the Manhattan dinner theater where the show opened last week than at a Whoopee cushion factory.
"You could be at a funeral, and if somebody farts, people will laugh," said Steven Scott, a standup comedian who produces every gassy sound in "The Fartiste" with his mouth. "There's just something funny about it."
If you think disrupting a funeral is humorous, imagine catching Pujol's routine at the bawdy cabaret where the cancan was created. His act included imitating the sounds of thunder, cannons and tearing fabric. He would smoke a cigarette through a tube inserted in his anus and as for the finale, he would blow out some of the gas jet lights in the theater with an anal gust from no small distance away.
The protagonist of "The Fartiste" may make his living with a repertoire of manmade bathroom noises, but the show is not just crudely rubbing at the audience's funny bone, the producers told HuffPost.
Get past the flatulence and there's the story of a dignified man who turned a physical abnormality into an asset. Fame and fortune don't quench his appetite, and he covets and strives for artistic respect.
"This is a guy who farts, but so what? That's not a reason to write a story," said Michael Roberts, who composed the music and lyrics. "It's a celebration of talent. We're all given some gifts and talents, but what makes life worth living is to make those gifts as great as possible."
Pujol is a humble, family-oriented baker by trade who pursues his dream of entertaining audiences with an array of sounds created by his unusual skill at sucking air in through his bottom and, most importantly, blowing it back out. In fact, his performances were allegedly odor-free, because he worked with fresh air rather than fumes passed through the digestive system.
One modern man alone is not enough to represent Pujol and his talent. Kevin Kraft, blessed with an elastic Jim Carrey-esque face that's just right for feigning anal acoustics, has the principal responsibility of playing Pujol. The lines that don't come from Pujol's mouth are performed by Scott, who stands stage right at a microphone mimicking the sounds of the gastrointestinal tract, as well as musical instruments and a barnyard animal or two.
The action takes place all around the theater -- in the aisles, by the bar and sometimes on the laps of ticket holders when a leggy starlet plops down during a number.
The creators extol the show as an ode to the human spirit and are full of praise for a convincing cast that depicts late-19th century showgirls, nightlife promoters and Pujol's supportive family. And the show clearly brings something to the table -- it won best musical at the New York Fringe Festival too, they point out.
But they worry that the gassy title alone is enough for some theatergoers to turn up their noses.
"Honestly, I do [worry]," Roberts said. "No matter how good our work is, some people will never come to the show because of our title,"
Reviews, however, have been positive and they're banking on word of mouth to attract larger crowds to give the show a fair shake.
"It's a hard task for a show called 'The Fartiste' to be taken seriously," said Schulman. "Our journey parallels the journey of our hero."
Patrons thus far have lauded the production, and found more message than might meet the eye.
"I liked it a lot," Kevin Scully told The HuffPost after a recent performance. "It's touching."