‘a fart in a spacesuit’: meaning and origin

The humorous phrase a fart in a spacesuit denotes someone or something that is unwelcome, unpopular, etc.

The phrase a fart in a spacesuit is first recorded in the British-television chat show Parkinson 1 of Saturday 27th September 1980—after telling how the audience responded badly to him in Washington, D.C., on the first night of an American tour, the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly (born 1942) explained:

It wasn’t my audience, it was Elton John’s 2 audience, and they made me feel as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit.

1 Michael Parkinson (born 1935) is an English broadcaster, journalist and author.
2 Elton John (Reginald Kenneth Dwight – born 1947) is an English pop and rock singer, pianist and songwriter.

The phrase a fart in a spacesuit was popularised by Billy Connolly, but it perhaps originated in Royal-Navy slang, since the Royal-Navy medical officer Richard Jolly (1946-2018) recorded it in Jackspeak: The Pusser’s Rum Guide to Royal Navy Slanguage (Torpoint, Cornwall: Palamanando Publishing, 1989)—reprinted as Jackspeak: A Guide to British Naval Slang and Usage (Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd, 2018):

fart Almost onomatopoeic term for the anal emission of intestinal gas. A useful octet:
1. fart in a colander—descriptive of indecisive or effectual [i.e., ‘ineffectual’?] behaviour: ‘Look at you lad, you’re rushing about like a fart in a colander, not sure which hole to come out of…’
2. fart in church—a serious misdeamour [misprint for ‘misdemeanour’]: ‘E’s got ten days’ number 11’s 3; serves ’im right for farting in church…’
3. fartarse about—pretend to be working, or sometimes fanny about.
4. fart—when you’re beaten in an argument with a senior: ‘It’s no use trying to fart against thunder…’
5. fart in a spacesuit—Jack’s phrase for something not only unwelcome and unpleasant, but which also has an enduring and persistent quality.
6. fart in a thunderstorm (RM)—indication of someone or something’s general worth: ‘His announcement had just about as much impact on the proceedings as a fart in a thunderstorm…’
7. fart in a trance—description of somebody who is a bit dreamy and unable to make decisions; has also been heard as: ‘You look like a lost fart in a haunted milk bottle!’
8. fartleberries—yet another name for bum plums or haemorrhoids, and also for baked beans.
[…]
lead fart Comparative description of something that has not been well received; see also fart in a spacesuit!

3 In the same book, Richard Jolly explains that the word number is used of punishments “in reverse order of severity”:

No. 1 (used to be death, but is now imprisonment) down to No. 14 (admonishment). The first five could only be awarded by Court Martial or by a warrant authorised by a Flag Officer.

The phrase a fart in a spacesuit had occurred earlier in Excess Baggage, a radio play by the British author Ken Blakeson (born 1944), broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Monday 22nd February 1988—as published in Best Radio Plays of 1988 (London: Methuen/BBC Publications, 1989):

Cyn: Hey, fancy coming out for the day?
Dawn: Wouldn’t mind.
Cyn: Do some shopping then go round the castle, take a picnic. Lovely down the river.
Dawn: I can’t, I promised Denny I’d go to the Wives’ Club.
Cyn: Sod that! Let’s make a day of it.
Dawn: I can’t, he wants me to go.
Cyn: Bloody hell!
Dawn: Listen, why don’t you come with me. Keep me company.
Cyn (laughs): I’d be about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit.

The phrase then occurs:

1-: In Survival, by Peter Howick, published in the Evening Herald (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Wednesday 7th June 1995:

I set out to stay alive in Dublin’s classiest postal address without any food or drink whatsoever. The editor even insisted that all my credit cards be consfiscated [sic].
That was particularly cruel. Going to Ballsbridge without American Express is practically a death sentence.
[…]
It began to rain. I looked for shelter, but without money no one wanted to know. The snarl of guard dogs erupted every time I passed a gate. The policeman at the British Embassy began to talk frantically into his walkie-talkie as I limped by. I felt as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit.

2-: In the review of the U.S. comedy film To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995); review by Claran Carty, published in The Sunday Tribune (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Sunday 12th November 1995—the following is about the U.S. actor, dancer, singer and songwriter Patrick Swayze (1952-2009), who played Vida Boheme in the film:

He’s always been aware of a feminine side in himself. […]
Which didn’t make it easy for him as [misprint for ‘at’] school. “When I walked into Junior High with a violin case in one hand and ballet shoes in my back pocket, it went over like a fart in a space suit. It seemed like no matter how hard I tried to fit in by becoming most valuable player or whatever, nothing seemed to get past the narrow-mindedness that existed in that redneck world that I came from.”

3-: In The Pandora’s Boks, by Neil Francis, published in The Sunday Tribune (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Sunday 29th June 1997:

Frano Botica 4, my room mate, wasn’t speaking to me either as I had received a phone call from his wife. I had identified myself and she had poured half her heart out to me before I told her: wrong Frano. This was fart in a space-suit, hang sangwich [sic] at a Jewish convention and a French kiss at a family reunion, to the power of ten.

4 Frano Botica (born 1963) is a New Zealand-Croatian rugby union and rugby league coach, and former player in both codes.

4-: In What a scam!, by Peter Howick, published in the Evening Herald (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Wednesday 12th November 1997:

First Lady cracks a good one
I see where a publishing house has brought out a book once written by our beloved President Mary McAleese 5. Describing her first day in court as a young female lawyer, Ms McAleese said she felt like “a pair of rosary beads in an Orange Lodge.” That’s a funny simile, Mary. However, I still prefer Billy Connolly’s line that he once felt as welcome “as a fart in a spacesuit.”

5 Mary McAleese (née Leneghan – born 1951) is an Irish politician who served as the eighth President of Ireland from 11th November 1997 to 10th November 2011.

5-: In a letter by one Lawrence G. Stumpner, published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) of Friday 26th March 1999:

It is difficult deciding which I find more revolting, more repulsive or more reprehensible: A sick excuse for a film or a sick excuse for a critic whose words of wisdom oozed over two pages (Barry Paris’ review of “Ravenous,” 6 which deals graphically with cannibalism, March 19).
Paris’ attempt to inject his wretched excuse of a review with droll humor goes over with all the aplomb of a fart in a spacesuit. While snickering sickly over the subject matter of “Ravenous,” a third-rate critic like Paris knows to an absolute certainty that the mere mention of the film and what it is all about will attract large numbers of dysfunctional dorks and co-dependent cretins. If this classless creature (Paris, that is) had any shred of decency, he would simply not review depraved, degenerate garbage like this at all.

6 Ravenous (1999) is a Western horror film directed by Antonia Bird (1951-2013).