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Jaleel White Opens Up About Not Wanting To Play Stefan On Family Matters, And Why He’s Grateful For The Opportunity Years Later

Michelle Thomas, Jaleel White and Kellie Shanygne Williams on Family Matters
(Image credit: Warner Bros. Television)

For multiple generations, Jaleel White will always be known as everybody’s favorite annoying TV next-door neighbor Steve Urkel. But there’s another Family Matters character that shares a special place in viewers’ hearts – Stefan Urquelle. While White succeeded at playing both characters, he initially wasn't eager to portray Stefan on the TGIF sitcom. The actor television personality recently revealed why he didn’t want to play the role and explained why he’s grateful for the opportunity years later.

The Family Matters alum’s surprising take on Steve Urkel’s alter ego came up during his guest appearance on The Talk (opens in new tab), where he celebrated the birthday of his close friend and host Akbar Gbajabiamila. It was co-host Sheryl Underwood who asked White about the suave sitcom character and, surprisingly, the actor seemed slightly annoyed. From there, he explained:

You know what, I never even wanted to play Stefan. I thought Stefan was boring! And I mean, thank God I played Stefan because it allowed Black women to see me the way I actually am. I had no idea! Now, that’s the standard, I mean I could be driving down Crenshaw, and immediately at a bus stop, ‘Hey, that’s Stefan.’ Black people, we got special vision in the hood!

His take on the character is understandable, considering how fun and unpredictable Steve was compared to his alter ego. Though as Jaleel White pointed out, Urquelle changed the Black community's perspective of him as a person. Before Stefan’s debut, some Black viewers may have associated the traits of the nerdy and uncool neighbor with White himself. Thankfully, such a thing didn't affect him, and the role even helped him in his dating life. The 45-year-old TV star went on to say in regard to the role:

I’m really happy I played that character because it saved me in my own community.

While having mainstream acceptance is fine, there’s nothing like connecting with your community in a meaningful way. And what's really great about Jaleel White's work on Family Matters is that it allowed him to show off different facets of the Black experience. He showed off the world of academia through Steve and displayed the life of a young professional through working model Stefan. All in all, White definitely deserves his flowers.

Over the past few years, the perpetual TV guest star has opened up more and more about his time on the classic ABC sitcom. Stefan Urquelle’s surprise popularity wasn’t the only shift he experienced, as he spoke on not feeling welcomed by his castmates initially once Steve Urkel became a lead character. His cast members have been candid as well, as co-star Jo Marie Payton recalled him wanting to physically fight her after a tense interaction. However, the cast seem to be on good terms years later. And White (who even started a weed company inspired by his character) can take pride in knowing that he helped bring two iconic characters to life.

Family Matters is still one of the best TGIF sitcoms from the '90s, and you can catch the classic show in syndication. You can also binge all nine seasons by getting an HBO Max subscription.

A boy from Greenwood, South Carolina. CinemaBlend Contributor. An animation enthusiast (anime, US and international films, television). Freelance writer, designer and artist. Lover of music (US and international).