August 12, 2014 11:14 AM EDT

For its first couple of years, SNL was a genuine comedic rebellion, with the like of John Belushi affecting a rude mid-’70s punk-rock pose. With success, SNL went from playing CBGB to stadiums, but as the Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers and Tina Fey peaks proved, mass success doesn’t always mean the death of funny. SNL is not really a TV show anymore so much as a graduate school of American comedy, and it’s been as significant for the kind of artists it didn’t know what to do with (Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman) as for the stars it effortlessly launched (Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler). And every now and then it proves it can still matter, as when Rudolph Giuliani joined producer Lorne Michaels for the show’s pitch-perfect return after 9/11. (Michaels: “Can we be funny?” Giuliani: “Why start now?”) Like a land shark, or a certain organ in a box, SNL can still surprise you.

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