Celebrities | TV | Pop Culture | 90s
Jaleel White Reveals The 'Family Matters' Episode That Made Him Cry After Filming
We all remember watching Family Matters each and every week with our families, laughing at the outrageous nonsense that our good buddy Steve Urkel would get into. Each time he said that catch phrase "did I do that?" we'd laugh as if it were the first time we heard it.
However, behind the scenes it was a different story for the young star. Jaleel White played the suspenders-clad Urkel for years, appearing in 204 episodes total, but it wasn't always fun for him. He admitted that there were times where the work was hard on him, especially when it came to one of the most famous episodes.
Who else remembers Myrtle Urkel? Steve Urkle's cousin from down south visited the Winslows while Steve was out of town. He was hesitant about playing the female character, but felt like he could make it work. “I always believe that if I believe it, they’ll believe it. So, I had to be a girl,” White said.
Jo Marie Payton, who played Harriette Winslow, expressed how impressed she was with his performance by saying "You did a darn good job at it."
However, while he can look back now and laugh, at the time White had a very different reaction to the character...
Just like every other kid going through puberty, a lot of our concerns relate back to how we thought our classmates were going to react. These feelings extend even to those who are on television.
“At that age, I was concerned that my friends at school were gonna make fun of me. … At the end of that first episode [playing] Myrtle, I went in my dressing room and I cried," White shared years later. "And then the producers came to check on me, and my dad told them that I would never do that character again. I knew I had done it so well, I was like, ‘Damn, they definitely gonna make fun of me at school for this.’ … I had gone there.”
Although five years later he decided that it was time to give it another shot. “I was just kind of bored … and I [walked into] the writers’ room one day and I said, ‘If you guys want to do Myrtle again, I’ll do it.’ And I remember they just cheered," White remembered.
His classmates surprised him though. When he first played Myrtle, he assumed everyone would make fun of him. But that's not what happened. “When I did go to school after the first time I did it, no one made fun of me. Everybody just thought it was absolutely hysterical. … [A few years later] I was starting to get a good idea for what were going to be good sweeps week episodes and I just felt like we needed a [shot in the arm], and that’s how Myrtle came back.”
Even though Myrtle is a fan favorite, White's favorite transformation is a different character. “My favorite episode would have to be Stefan Urquelle’s first episode, and the only reason why is because it came as such a shock to me that people were so interested in seeing me as me. I thought it was boring,” White explained. “To this day, I’ve never seen such complete shock, and awe, and screaming from people in an audience.”