Jaleel White rose to fame on the ’90s Chicago-set sitcom, Family Matters, as the nerdy and annoying neighbor to the Winslow family, Steve Urkel. Though Steve was a brilliant scientist and inventor– eventually inventing a time machine to transform himself into the dapper Stefan, Steve’s clumsiness and obsession with Laura Winslow (Kellie Shanygne Williams) was the bane of the family’s existence.
Still, White quickly stole the show as the suspender-wearing nerd, even introducing new members of the Urkel family on screen. In 2017 during a Family Matters cast-reunion, White spoke about the 12th episode of Season 1 where he portrayed Myrtle Urkel, Steve’s Southern Belle cousin.
“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. And then the producers came to check on me, and my dad told them that I would never do that character again,” White told Entertainment Weekly at the time. “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.”
Now, in a new episode of TV ONE’s UNCENSORED, White talked about the moment and how he cried. He also revealed that his co-stars, Jo Marie Payton who played Harriet Winslow, and Reginald VelJohnson who played Carl Winslow also took issue with him wearing a dress.
“I did run into an issue,” he revealed on UNCENSORED. “Jo Marie and Reggie at that time were very sensitive to putting Black men in dresses. They heaped that on me that day, they let me know that I was not doing our race a service by putting on that yellow dress.”
White went on to say that the criticism made him put even more into the character, taking it up a notch. However, by the end of the take, he broke down in tears and his father had to intervene. “My dad just rose up like a lion and was like ‘I’ve watched my son deal with this all week to pull out this performance and he will never play this character again. You got it once it’s done, but he shouldn’t have to carry the burden of some adults making a child feel bad for playing a girl just in fun,'” he recalled.
White would not return to the role of Myrtle for five more years. “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,” he told EW.
UNCENSORED: Jaleel White airs Sunday, May 16 at 10 p.m. on TV One.