Tom Brady’s Hilarious Fake ‘Saturday Night Live’ Sexual Harassment Video Hits Different Today
Everybody wants to be someone else. Comedians want to be actors, actors want to be rock stars, rock stars want to be athletes and athletes want to be funny. When you’re prized for your abilities on the field — your strength, your speed, your agility — you want to prove that your talents are more than merely physical. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that superstars like Peyton Manning and Charles Barkley have hosted Saturday Night Live, hoping to show off a hilarious, more human side of their personality. No matter how rich and successful and worshiped you are, deep down everyone wants to make people laugh.
Tom Brady has a new movie coming out Friday. It’s called 80 for Brady, based on a true story, which follows four older women (Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and Sally Field) who go to the Super Bowl to root on their hero. (Spoiler alert: It’s the Super Bowl when the New England Patriots came back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit to win. Thanks, stupid Atlanta Falcons.) Brady produced the comedy and has a cameo as himself, alongside fellow Patriots like Rob Gronkowski, and the seven-time champion admitted that acting isn’t the same as playing football.
“I learned a lot. … I find it challenging — sometimes hard,” he told Variety last year, later adding, “(Y)ou’re always paying attention to yourself as yourself rather than the character you’re playing. I don’t think that’s natural for me. What I’ve done for 23 years in sports is play myself. There’s no acting. It’s me on the field. When I’m pissed, I’m pissed. When I’m happy, I’m happy. I’m not playing a role. So when I got to go play a role, I have no programming for that. There’s not a lot of experiences to fall back on other than a few commercials that I’ve done.”
In his long career, Brady has indeed done a lot of commercials, as well as played variations of himself in everything from Ted 2 to Entourage (the series and the movie). When he’s acting, he usually portrays an amiable, slightly square Tom Brady — an endearing jock who’s the furthest thing from a jerk. Perhaps not surprisingly, though, he’s rarely left much of an impression, working so hard to ensure not to offend that his performances feel like little more than smoothly executed P.R. moves. I haven’t seen 80 for Brady yet, but it’s hard to imagine the movie veering from that strategy. Brady seems less interested in expressing himself creatively than he is in furthering a brand — the brand of Handsome All-American Football Legend Tom Brady.
But if I had to pick the funniest thing Tom Brady has ever done, it would be easy. It would be this sketch, which is nearly 18 years old:
If you polled people on their favorite athlete-hosted SNL episode, they’d probably go with Peyton Manning, who was on in 2007. (His United Way bit is an all-timer.) But two years earlier, just a few months after his Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX — the team’s third title in four years — Brady took to the stage of Studio 8H. In his opening monologue, he gamely did his best to sing. There was a sketch in which he played a guy who was terrible at throwing footballs in a carnival game — whereas everyone else is quite good at it. In another sketch, he’s using his celebrity to hawk his ridiculous new restaurant, Falafel City. (He also played Jim McMahon in a sketch about the Chicago Bears’ “Super Bowl Shuffle.”) The prevailing approach seemed to be, “Let’s show how adorable and down-to-earth this world-class athlete is,” which is usually how SNL deals with a non-actor host. You don’t want to embarrass the guy — you just want to make him look good.
But the evening’s finest sketch was “Sexual Harassment and You,” a fake training video supposedly created by General Electric to educate its employees. Written by Robert Smigel as part of his “TV Funhouse” series, and shot to look like an old-timey PSA, the sketch had a simple premise: A nerdy worker (Fred Armisen) in a bland office learns the importance of being respectful around his female coworkers so that they don’t feel threatened. “As a man, you want to have sex with all of them,” the peppy narrator explains, “but approaching a woman at work should be done with extreme caution to avoid a sexual-harassment lawsuit.” The fake video was going to show the nerds of the world how to go about doing this.
The joke is pretty obvious from the start: Whenever Armisen’s dork goes up to a female co-worker, she’s repelled — whether he blurts out something inappropriate like “You look pretty hot today” or just meekly says hello. By comparison, a much-better-looking co-worker, played by Brady, can do the same thing — or something even worse (like not wearing pants or fondling a female co-worker’s breast) — and immediately get a date. “Sexual Harassment and You” ends with three important rules for men to keep in mind: 1) Be Handsome; 2) Be Attractive; and 3) Don’t Be Unattractive. In other words, if you look like Fred Armisen, the rules are different than if you look like Tom Brady.
When the sketch aired on April 16, 2005, it was understandable why it was so popular. Smigel was touching on a universal annoyance, which is that attractive people get away with things the rest of us can’t. “Sexual Harassment and You” tapped into our shared resentment of the beautiful, and it was the one moment in Brady’s acting career where he actually allowed himself to be very minimally unlikable. We’re never going to have as many trophies or as much money as Tom Brady — we’re also nowhere near as handsome as he is. (Brady married supermodel Gisele Bündchen a few years later.) Brady’s character — clearly meant not to be Tom Brady — can say what he wants and do what he wants, and the women in the office will fall all over themselves to be with him. Yup, that’s the way life works when you’re one of the lucky people who won the genetic lottery.
Brady never hosted SNL again and later admitted he was a bundle of nerves right before going on, doing a couple tequila shots to get in the zone. Afterward, he just kept on winning Super Bowls while his chief gridiron rival, Peyton Manning, eventually developed a second career as a beloved comedian and TV pitchman. Brady was never as believably folksy and comfortable in front of the cameras as Manning — there’s always been something a little standoffish, even icy, about Brady that’s made him less relatable. But that’s why “Sexual Harassment and You” worked so well: Whether he was aware of it or not, in that sketch he played into our collective resentment of dudes like him, the ones who seemed to skate through life, the rules not applying to them. The sketch was funny and pointed, but also somewhat revealing. Brady knew what we thought of him, and he figured out how to turn that into laughs.
In some ways, “Sexual Harassment and You” would seem to be even more timely now than it was 18 years ago. In the #MeToo era, there’s far more awareness around workplace harassment — and stricter rules regarding office relationships. (Notably, the sketch doesn’t touch on boss/underling romances, which create even bigger HR headaches.) But as well-executed as “Sexual Harassment and You” remains, there’s also something very sour at its core — something I didn’t notice back in 2005 but probably should have.
The sketch’s conceit is that a nerd like Armisen’s character will always get in trouble propositioning a woman because he’s not attractive enough. But it also suggests that his female co-workers are so blinded by handsomeness that they won’t mind being harassed by a good-looking dude. Obviously, both men and women are susceptible to tolerating things from beautiful people because of their looks — that’s just human nature. (In fact, SNL acknowledged that very fact, years later, when Taran Killam played Brady on “Weekend Update,” talking his way out of Deflategate by charming the pants off of Colin Jost.) But “Sexual Harassment and You” creates a reality in which desirable women are dummies who can’t control themselves around the Tom Bradys of the world — whereas you, the ordinary-looking dude, will be punished simply because you’re not as handsome as they are.
It’s an attitude born out of a lot of adolescent angst — “Why does the girl of my dreams like that jock instead of sensitive, thoughtful me??!” — but it’s also pretty condescending and insulting. (Watching “Sexual Harassment and You” now, I’m reminded of the people who expressed shock about serial abusers like Harvey Weinstein, declaring, “He’s not even that good-looking!”) Even worse, the sketch almost suggests that women, essentially, get what they deserve if they let hunks sexually harass them. There’s a lot of anger and resentment woven into what’s otherwise a very funny, clever sketch.
To be fair, I chalk that up more to evolving worldviews, as opposed to something inherently insidious in Smigel’s writing or Brady’s performance. For most people, “Sexual Harassment and You” is just a very funny bit about a very recognizable aspect of dating culture. It struck a chord back in 2005, and unlike a lot of SNL sketches that simply fade away over time, it’s still resonant — albeit maybe in ways that weren’t so obvious back then. And it represents the one time that Brady ever dared do something remotely edgy or dark in his acting career. I assume we’ll see squeaky-clean, lovable GOAT Tom Brady in 80 for Brady. But for a brief moment, “Sexual Harassment and You” suggested something slightly more ominous behind that perfect smile.