After Family Matters' Jo Marie Payton Revealed Problems Filming With Jaleel White, Co-Star Reginald VelJohnson Weighed In

Steve Urkel and Carl sitting on the couch in Family Matters
(Image credit: HBO Max)

As one of the most popular sitcoms of the 1990s, the TGIF staple Family Matters has long been most associated with Jaleel White’s Steve Urkel, the breakout character that turned the show from a heartfelt family comedy into something far more wacky and focused on the younger characters. And while White has occasionally reflected over the years on how playing Urkel was both a blessing in some ways, and a curse in others, fans are only now getting more candid viewpoints on how things went from Family Matters’ adult stars. A little over a month after Jo Marie Payton called out White for an instance where he threatened to physically fight her, the sitcom’s patriarch portrayer Reginald VelJohnson also weighed in with some not entirely positive thoughts.

Having played the often put-upon police officer Carl Winslow for all nine seasons, Reginald VelJohnson was present from the earliest and calmest days of Family Matters’ run all the way through the endgame days, where all of the younger actors were basically full-blown adults. As did others, VelJohnson watched as Jaleel White became a superstar, something that seemingly went to the youth’s head and made him slightly more difficult to deal with on a weekly basis. Here’s how the Die Hard vet explained it to Entertainment Tonight, while making sure to broaden his thoughts after first directing them at White:

He was a wonderful kid, [but] I think working with him was a challenge. Working with everybody was a challenge, and there were some moments where he was a little difficult. But overall, I have nothing but good memories from him.

That’s definitely about as even-keeled a response as one could expect, since Reginald VelJohnson is probably more aware now than he would have been a decade ago that saying anything too damning about Jaleel White would spread across the Internet like wildfire. Which isn’t tos ay he was hiding anything, of course, as he might indeed feel as if it was a “challenge” and nothing more complicated than that. To that end, I can’t imagine White would have tried to pick a physical fight with his fictional neighbor, so VelJohnson probably doesn’t share that in common with former co-star Jo Marie Payton.

Still, while he didn’t share any memories that revolved around volatile and heated emotions coming to a head, Reginald VelJohnson did speak to how annoying and aggravating it could be to try and get things accomplished behind the scenes on the set whenever there were so many child and teen actors running around. And I think just about any parents, teachers, counselors, etc. will understand directly where he was coming from when saying:

I think, you know, a lot of the kids grew up on the set and we had to deal with children... and that was an interesting experience, dealing with children as they grew up. I went to my dressing room and locked the door when I [rehearsed] my scenes because that was the only way. Because kids have a lot of energy... [and] you couldn't deal with it. I remember one incident, he [and] the kids were playing basketball on the set, and I just couldn’t take it. I said, 'Please, please stop the basketball!' And they wouldn’t stop. I said, 'Listen, you either stop the basketball playing or I’m gonna leave.' And I left. But there was no more basketball after that.

For what it’s worth, Jaleel White has also opened up over the years about how he didn’t feel welcome on the set when he first come aboard. Steve Urkel was meant to be a one-and-done guest spot, and ended up becoming the entire show thanks to ridiculously popular catchphrases like “Did I do that?” But it doesn’t seem like Payton or VelJohnson has maintained any ill will over that issue exactly, beyond the idea that the instant rise to fame gave White the freedom to do what he wanted on the set without repercussions. One can only imagine what would have happened to the show if Urkel would have disappeared instead of the long-gone Judy Winslow.

Fans have been asking for some kind of a Family Matters revival for ages now, among other TGIF comebacks, but beyond some minimal talk of an animated return, things apparently haven’t been moving forward on any of those fronts. While waiting to hear more, though, all nine seasons can be streamed with an HBO Max subscription. And check out what the Family Matters cast has been up to in recent years, which may or may not include a Steve Urkel-ized strain of marijuana.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.