Former child star Jaleel White is reprising his breakout role of Steve Urkel just in time for the holiday season.
In the animated Cartoon Network special, “Did I Do That to the Holidays? A Steve Urkel Story,” White will once again voice the clumsy teen nerd as he wreaks havoc on Christmas festivities, and attempts to save the day with one of his quirky inventions.
The comedic breakout character of Urkel was introduced to millions of families in 1989 when he first appeared on “Family Matters.” At the time, White was only 12 and had already begun making his mark as a child actor in the industry.
While the cast of the Winslow family was close-knit, White has previously noted he did not receive the warmest welcome on set for his first “Family Matters” guest appearance. “I was not welcomed to the cast at all,” he explained during his May 2021 sit-down for TV One’s series “Unsung.” He further elaborated by stating, “They know what it was … I didn’t think anything of it being cast to be on ‘Family Matters,’ because it was supposed to only be a guest spot, one and done.”
But as America fell in love with the Winslow family’s nerdy and intrusive neighbor, so did the cast. White has recounted his experience on the hit show as being one of the best learning grounds for his career.
“It was an amazing experience. I learned physical comedy to a degree that most child actors never will. I really just became a student of it — became obsessed with it to be quite honest,” White explained to TV Guide in 2010. “I was fortunate to work with some very powerful producers like Tom Miller and Bob Boyett. [They] gave me an inordinate amount of free reign … to ad lib and really embrace the spontaneity of what multi-camera shooting can be.”
White also gained a massive fan base as Urkel clearly became the star of the show. Fandom over the Laura Winslow obsessed teen eventually turned into million-dollar merchandise opportunities such as T-shirts, bed sheets, posters and more of Urkel, and his debonair alter ego Stephan became all the craze.
“They [the show] needed a spark. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I was just being me, just following my instincts,” said White of his reaction to the role becoming such a 90’s staple. “I wasn’t a kid trying to become famous. I wasn’t a part of any Disney Channel wheelhouse. I was basically a black kid whose parents put him into the business so he could go to college,” he added.
Just over two decades have passed since “Family Matters” aired its final episode. Since then, the veteran child actor has found work on television series such as “Fresh Off the Boat” and “The Big Show,” as well as numerous movie roles. But, even after proving he is more than the popular 1990’s accident-prone teen, White continues to take on new ways of introducing Urkel to audiences.
Despite being best known for the role, and still portraying him well into his 40s, White is not the least bit concerned with critics viewing him as typecast. “When it comes to the typecasting thing, I always tell people, ‘You’re only as good as your opportunities,’ ” said White while speaking with TV Guide. “The nature of television is that it’s a beast with a lot of opinions. I don’t consider myself typecast any more than Neil Patrick Harris was as Doogie Howser or James Gandolifini is as Tony Soprano. I could play the ‘Where Are They Now?’ game with a lot of people. The process is: I need to grow up, mature, become an adult, then surprise people with new stuff.”