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With her thinly veiled rage, SNL’s “Claire from HR” is the hero we need now

Saturday Night Live comedian Cecily Strong
Reuters/Joshua Roberts
  • Lila MacLellan
By Lila MacLellan

Quartz at Work senior reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Sexual harassment training has a mixed track record for effectiveness, but the writers at Saturday Night Live have developed a version with bite.

On Saturday (November 11), the show debuted a new character, “Claire from HR,” on the Weekend Update faux-news segment. Played brilliantly by Cecily Strong, Claire from HR joined co-anchor Colin Jost to address the seemingly current (but actually ancient) crisis of workplace harassment, one that’s demanding attention following a long string of sexual harassment allegations piling up in the news.

Like an ER nurse catching naps in the break room during a natural disaster, the flustered but still professional Claire, we learn, has been living at the office for three days and picking up meals at the local drugstore. She arrives on set with her lunch receipt stuck to her neck. Between pumps of Purell, which she drinks to stay “cleansed” and buzzed, she shares questions from her annual harassment training quiz with Jost.

Her first question makes winking references to Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced movie producer, and Louis CK, who was in the news last week after the New York Times confirmed rumors that the comedian has repeatedly masturbated in front of (or on the phone with) his female peers. “Ok, the first question is just about office romance, it’s not a big deal, we know it happens, right?” she says.

What is the appropriate way to handle a workplace relationship?
a) Inform someone in HR.
b) Lock her in a room and make her look at it.
c) Bully her out of the entire industry.

The bouncy, perma-smiling, and obviously agitated Claire is delighted and relieved when Jost chooses “a.” “You’d be surprised how many people get that wrong,” she tells him. “It could make you lose your damn mind.”

In another question, Claire underlines with false levity, as if there’s anything light and fun in the controversy surrounding Roy Moore,  Alabama’s Republican nominee for a seat in the US Senate, or the allegations against Kevin Spacey, who apologized for possibly harassing a minor by also coming out of the closet. “We have to do this now,” Claire from HR says, capturing the “friendly” vibe that women —and especially women in HR— have felt pressure to maintain through recent discussions about harassment and assault.

When is it okay for an adult to have a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old?
a) When she’s 14, but smoking a cigarette.
b) When she’s 14, but it’s Alabama.
c) When she’s 14, but you’re gay now, so hooray, how brave!

In her final question, Claire presents Jost with a stuffed doll, a cigar-smoking businessman in a suit. “This is you,” she says. “When talking to a coworker in the office, where should your penis be?”

“Just point on the doll where your penis should be,” she tells Jost in the sing-song voice of your first grade teacher, “and, just remember, there’s no wrong answers here, just super-wrong answers.”

“I would say, in your pants,” he suggests.

“Yes!” she shouts. “Your penis never needs to be out of your pants at work.”

It’s a revelation.

As she acknowledges, Claire is likely to be a regular on Update. Signing off, she tells viewers: “I will probably be back next week and the week after that forever and ever, because this isn’t just a scandal. It didn’t just start this week. It’s just actual reality for half of the population.”

Human resources professionals have a new hero. Actually, we all do.

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