(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Here is the tragedy of Ted Cruz’s permanently embryonic comedy career in a single, easily sound-bite-able moment: Even when he unleashes a hypothetically effective zinger—as he did at tonight’s tax debate against Bernie Sanders, referencing the Vermont senator’s Larry David connection by telling him to “Curb your enthusiasm” during a particular heated moment—the joke always, inevitably, sounds like it’s being beamed off of a teleprompter buried from deep inside his skull, three inches behind that vapid, shit-eating grin.

In an instant, you can just imagine the high-level strategy meeting, six hours earlier, when Cruz first revealed this clearly planned burst of wit for his advisers and prep team. “What if,” he asks, and the boys all lean forward, seeing the impish smile form on Cruz’s bland, gormless lips. “What if I told him to ‘Curb your enthusiasm?’ Wouldn’t that be a hoot?” And in the moment, it is a hoot, because these are Ted Cruz’s people, and the hooting is mandatory.

In the actual crucible of comedy, though, Cruz’s material came off as it actually is: a clearly prepared bit, ham-fistedly forced into the first available moment, and delivered as though it had been received from a comedy angel from on high. It got a chuckle out of Sanders, at least, who then proceeded to shut Cruz right back down with a single improvised aside, because some people are funny, and some people are Ted Cruz.

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