V: Mule

Behind the scenes of Francis the Talking Mule.

quintidi, the 5th of Messidor, Year CCXXXI
Your ride is ready. Photo by Anna Kaminova / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is quintidi, the 5th of Messidor, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate le mulet, a cross between a donkey and a horse that's meant only for work.

The mule is specifically the cross-breed offspring of a jack (male donkey) and mare (female horse). If you swap the siring genders, you have a hinny, which is more rare, smaller, and less docile than a mule. Because the two siring species have different numbers of chromosomes – horses with 64, donkeys with 62 – mules are generally sterile, and typically imbued with an awkward 63 chromosomes. There are, however, many accounts of a 63-chromosome mule giving birth to either donkeys or horses due the usual quirks of the natural birth process. Apparently, with the right jack or stallion, the mule can produce offspring with an even number of chromosomes and allow her "muleness" to skip a generation. While we don't usually think of mules as a romantic animal, the implication here is that for every mule, there's a special someone out there just for her.

The dream and nightmare of every comedian is to write a single joke that can be milked for decades. On the one hand, it's the closest thing in comedy to a hit song, and something that can be turned into an entire career. On the other, beating a single joke to death is the opposite of an artistic endeavor, and a lot of pride must be swallowed along the path to riches. Sometimes, the joke follows the comedian, and no matter how hard they try, they can't shake it, and eventually have to shrug and just accept it. (Think Jimmie Walker with "dyn-o-mite" or Gallagher smashing watermelons.) And sometimes, the joke is the intentional shallow creation of a cash-grabbing studio that won't let go no matter what. And that's how we all got a decade of talking mule movies followed by a decade of talking horse television.