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Anthony Weiner & Ted Cruz’s Excellent Latenight Adventures With Bill Maher & Jay Leno

Pols on opposite ends of the spectrum awkwardly take their pitches to HBO, NBC

Ted Cruz and Anthony Weiner don’t see eye to eye on much politically, and they’re at very different stages of their careers. Yet they had one thing in common Friday, as both ventured into the waters of latenight comedy: Cruz, the filibustering Texas senator, appearing on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno;” and Weiner, the disgraced congressman, failed New York mayoral candidate and ready-made punchline, dropping in on “Real Time With Bill Maher.”

Cruz might have become a darling of conservatives and a driving force in the recent government shutdown, but he seemed ill-equipped for Leno, and slightly taken aback by the latenight host’s questioning regarding the shutdown, the GOP emphasis on social issues (Leno has previously articulated a more accepting, libertarian view of gay marriage, for one) and the general vitriol in Washington.

In fact, Leno — who doesn’t really have to worry about losing the gig at this point — delivered as many applause lines as Cruz mustered, keeping the senator mired in discussions of policy while offering scant opportunity to flash any of his lighter side, which is one of the reasons politicians gravitate toward the latenight couch. (Cruz did get in a line about his daughter and his reading Dr. Seuss during his filibuster, but that qualified as too little, too late.)

Relegated to the second guest spot (after Mariska Hargitay of NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”), Cruz still had ample time to pitch his positions, and certainly earned some national exposure among those who pay scant attention to politics. That said, if he really does harbor presidential ambitions, as Leno referenced, he’s going to need to work on this more casual aspect of his portfolio, beyond just wearing boots and no tie.

As for Weiner, Maher opened the “Real Time” appearance by expressing a general plea that politicians stop getting chased from the professional arena over their sexual peccadilloes, a suggestion that left Weiner — still sounding contrite about the Twitter-pic scandal that chased him from office and undercut his mayoral bid — relatively speechless. “It wasn’t that awful, what you did,” Maher said, citing John F. Kennedy’s more tangible infidelity as a contrast.

Weiner clearly felt much more comfortable once the conversation shifted to politics, allowing him to engage in a full-throated defense of healthcare reform and to bash Republicans for working against the government when they lose elections.

Ultimately, Weiner’s most serious addiction seems to be one common among politicians — namely, a hunger to remain in the spotlight. At this point, however, he’s still too close to his recent setbacks and all those one-liners, which continue to serve as a distraction.

Weiner still might have a future in punditry, while Cruz is ensconced in the thick of politics. On Friday, though, the headliners were Maher and Leno, leaving both of their much-talked-about guests looking like the No. 2 guy on the ticket.

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