I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Before the Whoopee Cushion, there was the Musical Seat, but the latter didn’t have the earthiness of the former. It sounded more like a child crying than a comedic backfire.
The Toronto Star says it was the combined genius of employees at the JEM Rubber Co., who should take the credit for inventing the Whoopee Cushion.
Other names for the apparatus that never caught on include: Poo-Poo Cushion, Po-Pe Ball, Rex Zow-Ee, Razz-Z Ball, and Boop-Boop A Doop. Aren’t you glad you know that now?
Whoopee Cushion Technicalities
For the tiny number of people who don’t know, the Whoopee Cushion is an inflatable bladder. The opening has two flat pieces of rubber that slap together when the air in the bladder is expelled.
The sound produced is variously called a Fanny Burp, Bronx Cheer, Raspberry, or Trouser Trumpet. The Urban Dictionary lists 261 synonyms for what is commonly known as a fart.
The device is placed on a chair and, when the unsuspecting guest sits down, the heiny hiccup bursts forth in all its hilarious glory. People, including but not limited to a certain semi-retired journalist who really should have outgrown this stuff 60 years ago, fall about in uncontrolled laughter.
No to the Whoopee Cushion
Workers were playing around with bits of rubber off-cuts when that familiar and hilarious sound was produced. That was in 1930, and The Star picks up the narrative:
“… Sales reps from JEM toured the novelty industry promoting their new invention complete with the sound. They approached Samuel Sorenson Adams of the S.S. Adams Co. of Asbury Park, N.J. Adams, at the time, was the premier joke/magic trick/puzzle manufacturer in North America.”
Apparently, Mr. Adams thought the cushion to be “indelicate” and turned down the opportunity of a lifetime. Johnson Smith & Co., picked up the idea and advertised it in their catalogue of novelty items as giving “forth noises that can be better imagined than described.” Sales took off and, because of the inexhaustible supply of prepubescent boys, continue to be strong.
Science Puts Whoopee Cushion to the Test
Professor Trevor Cox is an expert in acoustics at the University of Salford, in England. During two weeks in March 2009, he carried out an online poll “into what makes flatulence funny.” He used his experiment to raise money for the charity group Comic Relief.
Christopher Walken in Hairspray
A total of 34,000 people were subjected to “six of twenty possible sounds and rated them according to how much they make them laugh.” The results were not what might have been expected:
- “Longer whoopee cushion sounds are funnier―the funniest sound is seven seconds long so it is better to sit on a whoopee slowly for maximum effect;
- “Whiny sounds are funnier―three out of the top five sounds scoring full marks for funniness were classified as ‘whiny;’
- “Females find whoopee cushion sounds slightly funnier than males (big surprise that);
- “Whoopee sounds get less funny as you get older (not always);
- “Europe finds whoopee cushions funnier than America; and,
- “Sounds get funnier the more you listen to them.”
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Professor Cox, who owns the world’s largest Whoopee Cushion (a monster over three metres in diameter), says there is some serious science behind all the giggling. “This research will enable us to engineer the ultimate Whoopee Cushion, and fine-tune the world’s funniest design.”
The Whoopee Cushion and Celebrities
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is, of course, known for his exquisite music, but he also had a lavatorial sense of humour. It’s been said that a great tragedy of Mozart’s short life is that he died before the Whoopee Cushion was invented.
Caryn Johnson is an American actress afflicted by flatulence, although not as afflicted as her fellow performers. In 2006, she pointed out to The New York Times that in mid-performance an actor can’t just leave the stage to attend to a gas attack in private. “… you’ve got to let it go. So people used to say to me, ‘You are like a whoopee cushion.’ ” Possessing a folksy sense of humour, the actress changed her name to Whoopi Goldberg.
In 2003, several British celebrities gave their talents to an ad for Walkers Crisps (potato chips) that was raising money for a charity. Such luminaries as Kate Winslet, Liam Neason, Emma Thompson, Zoe Ball, and others let the farts rip on camera, with the artificial aid of Whoopee Cushions. A total of 88 sourpusses complained about the poor taste exhibited by the ad.
Fake Farts Go Hi-Tech
But, are the days of the Whoopee Cushion numbered? From the masterminds that brought us the home computer and the 3-D printer comes the Remote-Controlled Fart Machine™ No. 2.
The manufacturer notes that for a trifling $12.99, plus shipping and handling “You can embarrass your victims whenever the mood strikes you. Just hide the 3-inch, battery-powered speaker on or near the vicinity of someone, press the remote button (it is small enough to keep in your pocket), and watch the embarrassment begin!”
Or, there’s the iFart app for your smartphone. The developer states that “At iFart we take every chance we can to make our users smile and laugh. It’s why we’ve become one of the most popular apps of all time (And certainly the most infamous).”
They proudly assert that “The sound was recorded in one take, no animals were harmed in its production.”
- The average human breaks wind 14 times a day, which adds up to about half a litre of gas.
- If a person was to release gas continually for six years and nine months they would produce enough explosive power to equal the energy of an atomic bomb.
- The pungent ingredient of a fart, hydrogen sulphide, is less than one percent of the total volume of the average toot.
- Termites are the most gaseous animals on the planet producing an estimated 165 million tons of methane a year, that’s about 11 percent of the world’s annual methane emissions. Methane is worse for global warming than carbon dioxide.
- “Whoopee Cushion Got First Airing Here.” Stan and Mardi Timm, Toronto Star, March 31, 2008.
- “Making Nice.” Deborah Solomon, New York Times, August 20, 2006.
- Urban Dictionary.
- “Who Made That Whoopee Cushion?” Hilary Greenbaum and Dana Rubinstein, New York Times Magazine, March 20, 2012.
© 2016 Rupert Taylor
Fiddleman on August 05, 2016:
A cool little hub. Funny too. Don't ask why. lol