Although the series focused on a middle-class African American family in Chicago, the breakout star was the Winslows’ annoyingly dorky neighbor, Steve Urkel.
Twenty years later, Jaleel White, who played Urkel, still looks back at the show that catapulted him into stardom with fond memories and says that, yes, people still ask him to do the famous “Urkel” voice.
The 33-year-old spoke to TVGuide.com about his favorite memories from his nine seasons on the show, why he’s OK with being typecast, and what he’s up to now.
TVGuide.com: What was it like working on Family Matters?
Jaleel White: 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. 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 adlib and really embrace the spontaneity of what multi-camera shooting can be.
TVGuide.com: Were you surprised to become the show’s breakout star?
White: It was a completely different climate back then. 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. They needed a spark. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I was just being me, just following my instincts.
TVGuide.com: Were you like Urkel in any way?
White: I wasn’t a nerd by any stretch of the imagination and [I was] decidedly more a jock. You can ask George Clooney: We played basketball quite a lot on the set.
TVGuide.com: Do people ever ask you do the Urkel voice?
White: Yeah, somebody that’s drunk at a bar.
TVGuide.com: Did you keep any memorabilia from the series?
White: I own the car. I got little things, but I’m not one of those people who adorns my house with images of himself. There’s a trunk somewhere that has a few Urkel dolls in it.
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