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.