Earlier this century, one of the most popular entertainers at the Moulin Rouge in Paris was a tall, lanky Marseillais named Joseph Pujol. Like most novelty performers, however, he went by a sobriquet that was more discursive of the act itself: le Petomane. If you’ve taken French, you might recognize in Pujol’s nickname the stem of a verb you weren’t supposed to learn and make an educated guess as to what his performance consisted of; an apt English substitute would be “the Fartiste.” Pujol le Petomane achieved such mastery over his, how shall we put this, southerly wind that he could smoke a cigarette without using his lungs, play “Au Claire de la Lune” on a specially-constructed flute, and, as a special finale, extinguish the gas flames of the footlights from several paces away.
Pujol’s act was insanely popular—King Leopold II of Belgium was one of his biggest fans, although he always attended Le Petomane’s performances incognito—and made him a very rich and beloved entertainer. His elaborately staged performances made an art form out of something most people—then and now—would consider irretrievably vulgar. If Pujol were alive today and living in America, he could probably eke out a decent living for himself in grade-Z movies, at traveling summer rock festivals and on late-night chat shows, but you wouldn’t look for his name in lights at Carnegie Hall. Pujol would be considered a freak.
Are we short-changing our sideshow artists these days? Is it really fair that an icily pretty supermodel face and a popsicle stick for a body is often all it takes to be a millionaire many times over, but there’s no room at the inn for a guy who can squeeze himself through an unstrung tennis racket? As long as we’re passing out cash to people for physical assets that amount to accidents of birth, let’s have some of that for the man born with no discernible joints or cartilage in his body!
For the discerning gentleman, a good touring sideshow is worth more than all the lingerie shows in Paris. Now look what’s coming to the Top Hat this Saturday: Zamora’s Touring Sideshow, a cavalcade of the rubbery, the overtall, and the fearlessly masochistic.
Zamora himself, who goes by the Torture King, is a founding member of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow and co-author of Circus of the Scars. As the Torture King, he can jump barefoot into broken glass, bend red-hot metal with unprotected parts of his body and push bicycle spokes through muscle tissue with no apparent ill effects. Flexx the Rubber Boy—who claims to have grown up swimming downstream from a tire plant—performs unbelievable acts of contortion: wriggling his way into a straitjacket, for example, and that tennis racket stunt mentioned earlier. George “the Giant” McArthur, at seven foot three inches, has got more than just his height working for him—he’s also a sword swallower!
Through the rabbit hole with you, punters. And be sure to stick around for—whether as a practical joke or an amusing booking oversight—Seattle funkers Phat Sidy Smokehouse.
Zamora’s Touring Sideshow will appear at the Top Hat on Saturday, Dec. 11 at 8 PM. $3 cover includes headlining act Phat Sidy Smokehouse.