Tag Archives: dad joke

The Talking Mule


The subject is a student at USC who grew up in Charleston, South Carolina. I wanted to know if there were any local tales or folklore she knew of while growing up, so I interviewed her for the project.



Subject: There was this joke my grandpa used to tell us a lot when we were growing up, and I don’t think it’s actually that funny.

Interviewer: Share it with us.

Subject: I’m gonna butcher it, but it wasn’t funny in the first place —

Interviewer: So it won’t matter if you butch it then.

Subject: Okay it was called “The Talking Mule” and, ugh I’m gonna mess it up, but there was this farmer and he had a wife and kid. And he told the kid to go get something from the mule, but when he went over to the mule it said “I don’t wanna work today.” And the kid freaked out and he ran to his dad and told him that the mule talked. The farmer got mad at his son and sent him inside then went to the mule, which said, “I don’t wanna work today.” And then the farmer freaked out and said “I’ve never heard a mule speak” and the dog replied “Me neither.” And the farmer freaked out even more, he ran into the house and told his wife, “The mule and the dog talk!” And the wife said “You’re a liar.” And then the farmer freaks out and says, “You talk too?!”

Interviewer: That’s a pretty good one.

Subject: Yeah, it’s a little sexist at the end but then again it was my grandpa so.



I looked this joke up and I had to weave through lots of “Francis the Talking Mule” articles, which is a movie series about, you guessed it, a talking mule. But I eventually found that this joke is apparently apart of a string of South Carolinian tall tales. The version I found online doesn’t end with a joke about the wife speaking, but rather ends with the cat speaking. It’s not too much of a surprise like the one the Subject told, but the online version isn’t so derogatory, so. I looked up if agriculture was an important part of the South Carolinian economy, but it turns out their emphasis is in aerospace and technology.

Chinoisms: Sleep

Context & Analysis

The subject often mentions her mother’s “Chinoisms”, or unique sayings that her mother learned when growing up in Chino, CA. Below is the subject’s direct quote on the origin of her mother’s proverbs:

            “So my mom comes from Chino [California], and so she has a plethora of sayings that I didn’t even know what they meant earlier, I just said them until I got older and I was like “Oh! That actually makes sense!”

The subject’s mother’s response is cheeky and plays upon the pun created in the phrasing “How did you sleep?”. The question is rather contextual; if the question is taken literally (like how the subject’s mother does) it is results in a humorous answer.his reminded me a lot of classic “dad jokes”, or jokes that give literal responses to questions often with the purpose of irritating their children for a humorous result. The subject’s re-enactment of her mother’s gesture is also an important part of re-creating the joke, as the punchline of the joke is delivered physically rather than verbally.

Main Piece

“Almost religiously whenever my mom is asked “How did you sleep?’ she says “Like this!” and then she puts her hands next to her face, and, um, tilts to the side like she’s sleeping. [The subject put her hands in a prayer pose on the left side of her face like she’s sleeping on a pillow and tilts her head slightly].

Spanish Language Word Play

Subject: Joke featuring a play on words.


“Atrás te huele!”

“Interviewer: So, do you have any jokes that are particularly like crude, because I think those are the best one.

Interviewee: Oh… it’s like, my dad’d always tell this joke about how there’s a difference in like the arrangement of words. So, like you can say, uh, ‘huele a traste’. Like huele-a-taste, which is three words. Which means it smells like dishes versus ‘atrás te huele’. Which should be, it smells like dishes still, yes it should be. But, because if you like break up the word, if you break up the word it means you smell like ass… and it’s my fav.”

Background Info: Z. Cantú is a twenty-year-old college student majoring in Theater at the University of Southern California. She is from Brownsville, Texas and is bilingual in Spanish and English. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States as teens where they met and started a family. She has grown up with a melding of American and Mexican traditions.

Context: My roommate would frequently make mention of jokes her dad would tell involving funny rearrangements of words in her native Spanish. This is the crudest and her favorite. I asked her to recount this story for my collection.

Analysis: This joke garners its humor by subverting the expected to reveal a new, surprising, and rather crude meaning. The simplicity of this model is what lends the joke its success. Without garnish, the simple wordplay is clear and easy to pick up on. Furthermore, the crude language and insult involved in the joke increase its surprise since it is amazing to many people the power of language in that a slight change can create a whole new meaning. The simplicity of the word play marks it a clear “dad joke”.