The Enduring Legacy Of Baba Wawa, An All-Time Great Barbara Walters Homage

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the comedians who impersonated news icon Barbara Walters gave performances worthy of her caliber. The most famous was Gilda Radner's "Baba Wawa" from "Saturday Night Live," in which Radner portrayed the newscaster and interviewer with an exaggerated accent that turned her R's into W's. As Wawa, Radner hosted "Not For Ladies Only," a spoof of Walters' own "For Women Only" NBC panel show that would lay the groundwork for her long-running series "The View." While Walters wasn't originally a fan of the portrayal, she eventually learned to have a laugh at her own expense and even celebrated her retirement by appearing on "SNL" and poking a bit of fun at both the sketch show and herself. 

While it's understandable that Walters was a bit hurt at Radner making fun of her speech patterns, Radner's spoof of Walters took her from being well-known to a true household name. Being razzed by "SNL" is like a rite of passage for any celebrity, and Walters' legacy was such that she ended up portrayed by three different "SNL" comedians throughout her career, though none would have the lasting cultural effect of "Baba Wawa." The late Walters recently passed on December 30, 2022, at the age of 93, but her legacy and the absurd greatness of her "SNL" alter-egos will live on forever. 

A silly spin on a news legend

When Gilda Radner first debuted her Barbara Walters impersonation in 1975, audiences loved the silly, absurdist take on one of television's most serious newscasters. She would frequently have other female comedians on the show in a variety of roles, riffing on everything from being the wife of a president to chaotic celebrity behavior. The gag was enough of a part of the cultural consciousness that in the early 1990s, my young brother and I would refer to Walters as only "Baba Wawa," having heard every adult around us use that nickname. The two became synonymous, and eventually, Walters herself learned to be in on the joke when her own daughter was laughing at an episode of "Saturday Night Live" and told her mom to lighten up. 

Cheri Oteri also famously impersonated Walters on "SNL," and would even perform a sketch on "The View" where she interviewed Barbara Walters in character as ... Barbara Walters. Rachel Dratch also created a version of the news anchor, and reprised the role on "30 Rock." Walters was a woman with a big enough persona and legacy that three different incredible comedians each had a different legendary take, making her one of the most-spoofed (and most beloved) women in all of journalism. It has been said that a celebrity hadn't truly made it until they had been interviewed by Barbara Walters or parodied on "Saturday Night Live," which is what made Baba Wawa an all-time great celebrity impersonation.