After 500 articles with this paper, I kind of feel like I need to get something off my chest:

I think that people have to come up with more original things to say to me when they meet me in public.  It’s basically been the same eight lines for the last decade.  I’m a little bit done with these.

Because if you think about it, I have to write a different column every single week.  Yes, I come back to topics, but I only when I think of new lines.  Yet there are certain lines that people use every single time they see me.  Not the same people every time, I suppose.  There’s no one who comes up to me every time and says, “I thought you were a woman.” 

“I know.  You told me yesterday.”

  1. “I thought you were a woman.” All thanks to one column I wrote my very first year in which I publicly responded to someone who asked this, and all it did was get every reader to say, “I want to ask that too!” It’s like when I’m teaching in the mesivta, and one student asks, “How do you do #3?” and then I explain it in front of the class, and rather than put that question to rest, it just gets everyone else to say, “I want to ask how to do #3 too!” 
  2. Wait. Is that your real name?” This comes with the other one, as a package deal.  What’s the difference?  I’m not trying to buy alcohol from you.  How many people a day come to you and insist that they’re Mordechai Schmutter that you have to ask this?  I also don’t know why, after all these years, I always bend over backwards insisting that it is my name.  I show them my license and everything.  And then everyone in the area leans in to look at it, to see if I’m wearing a clown nose, I guess?  Because that will get me out of tickets.  And then they ask if it’s a real license.  I can’t believe being a humor columnist means you can get carded at any time by the general public.   
  3. “Oh, can you tell me a joke?” I don’t really have more jokes floating around in my head, ready at a moment’s notice, than the next guy, because 1. My column isn’t jokes; it’s lines that make sense in the context of a 6-minute article. And 2. What’s in my head right now are not the projects I’ve finished writing. It’s the article I’m currently working on, with unfinished punchlines that I’m trying to figure out how to word properly.  Do you want to hear a line that may or may not be told wrong?
  4. “Oh, are you going to use this in a column?” People ask me this about anything that happens in my presence. The basic answer is that I don’t know.  I’m usually not that quick to realize that something will work as a column.  I usually get annoyed about the annoying things that happen, the same as everyone else, and then I go home and say, “Oh, I guess that was my column!”

But now I used that line in a column.  And all the people who ever said this line to me are vindicated.  

“I KNEW it!  I called it!  9 years ago!” 

But it’s only humorists who get this question, right?  Or is it everyone in the newspaper industry? 

“I bet you’re going to edit THIS, huh?” 

“I bet you’re going to write a recipe for THIS, huh?” 

I do appreciate that the general public is trying to help me come up with topics, but for example, a few weeks ago, I was standing in front of the chicken display in the supermarket, looking for something to buy, and the person standing next to me turned to me and said, “I bet you’re going to write about THIS, huh?”  And I was like, “I didn’t say anything!”  That was the entire conversation.  But honestly?  I probably will.  I mean, I wasn’t going to, but here we are.

  1. Do you have a video camera in our house?” At least that question allows me to come up with creative responses based on the political environment at the time. To be honest, there are a thousand cameras in your house, and you’re never 100% sure that they’re off.  All you know is that when you push a button, you can no longer see what the camera sees. 

I should be quiet about this now, because it sounds like I know way too much about cameras. 

  1. How do you come up with all these topics?” This is a legitimate question that is asked either to make conversation or because someone wants to go into direct competition with me, and he noticed that the hardest part is constantly coming up with topics, so he wants my help to do so.

I’m not giving you trade secrets!  Go talk to the guy with the video-camera question. 

But either way, I don’t know the answer.  I’m just as surprised as you.  If you would have asked me back when I started if I thought I had 500 topics in me, I would have said, “No way.”  Not that this is a topic.  No, wait, here’s the answer:  I stand in the supermarket, staring at dead chickens, waiting for someone to walk up to me and, with no context at all, go, “I bet you’re going to write about THIS, huh?”

This next one is a newer comment, but I secretly wish people would stop saying it anyway:

  1. I grew up reading your columns.” I know I shouldn’t get offended. They mean it as a compliment.  But it makes me feel like I’m a hundred years old.  I know it can very well mean that the person started reading them at age 12, but “I grew up on this cereal” means “I’ve been eating it since I was a toddler.  As long as I’ve had memories, this cereal has been one of them.”  And a lot of the people who say this line, are about five years younger than me. 

And once we’re talking about compliments I’m taking the wrong way, people say:

  1. “My grandmother loves your columns. It kind of sounds like they’re fishing to think of what’s the closest relative they can say here. “Let’s see…  I don’t like your columns.  My parents don’t like your columns.  Oh, wait, my grandmother likes your columns.  She grew up on them.” 

You couldn’t find a further relative?  It’s like, “My cousin’s your biggest fa–well, not my cousin; it’s my cousin through marriage?  And actually not my first cousin?  Okay, my old neighbor…  Not my neighbor now, but my neighbor in my old house -- he knew a guy whose roommate liked one of your columns once.” 

“Oh, well tell him I said thank you.” 

“No, that’s too much work.” 

Do other “celebrities” get these kinds of questions?  Gedolim, for example.  Does everyone say the same kinds of things to them

“I thought you were a woman.” 

“Say something smart.” 

“My grandmother’s your biggest fan.” 

But okay, I shouldn’t compare myself to a gadol, so let’s talk about famous singers.  Do people come up to them on the street and say, “I’m feeling really stressed today; sing me a song!” 

“My grandmother’s your biggest fan!” 

“I thought you were a woman.”

Ideally, I would have a witty comeback that is universally hilarious to anyone, particularly people I’d never met before.  Is there such a line? 

So for a while, I stressed about coming up with the perfect responses.  And then I realized that whatever I came up with would get old to me really quickly.  And not only will they get old to me, they’ll get even older to my wife and kids, who are with me for many of these encounters.  My kids are annoyed enough that I make the same dad jokes every time they say the same complaints.  (“I’m hungry.”  “Hi hungry, I’m Totty.”)  What do you want?  You can give me the same opening and I have to come up with a different response?  You’ve said this thirteen times TODAY! 

Not only that, but apparently, there are certain lines that people specifically say to my kids (and also to my brothers, parents, unmarried sisters, married sisters who have to give a maiden name on forms…)

“Oh my goodness, are you Mordechai Schmutter’s son?  Are you funny also?  Is he funny at home?” 

That’s like asking a rav’s son, “Oh my goodness, are you the rav’s son?  Are you a talmid chacham also?  Is he a talmid chacham at home?  I bet he gives speeches all the time, right?”

The issue is that whatever the person I meet says, I feel like I have to say something witty, or they’ll walk away saying, “I met Mordechai Schmutter.  He’s not as funny in person.”  I am not.  But I can’t stand there and give them a 45-minute lesson as to why

No other writer has this problem, right? 

“I met Nachman Seltzer.  Not everything he says is a story.  Very disappointing.” 

It’s really just humorists. 

“I met Naomi Nachman.  Not every word out of her mouth is a recipe.” 

Actually, as much as I complain about people asking me for jokes in a supermarket, I can’t imagine what cookbook authors go through.

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia, a monthly humor columnist, and has written six books, all published by Israel Book Shop.  He also does freelance writing for hire.  You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.