Jaleel White may have been a household name in the ’90s as the suspenders-wearing Steve Urkel, but he says that didn’t always translate to respect in the entertainment industry.
In a Feb. 12 interview with Yahoo Entertainment, White spoke at length about his new podcast “Ever After” and a particular episode in which he spoke with fellow former child star Mayim Bialik about the biases present in how white and black children were treated. “It was very different being, you were made to feel African-American,” he explained.
NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 16: Jaleel White attends the 6th Annual Agency Quiz Bowl at Stage 48 on October 16, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)“Fred Savage [from ‘The Wonder Years’] was always invited to the Emmys,” White said. “He was always treated like a darling during his time. I was never invited to the Emmys even to present.”
“It was pretty much told to us I would be wasting my time to even submit myself for a nomination. It was so normalized you just shrugged it was like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s for the white kids.’ That was your attitude, you didn’t even you didn’t even take it personal.”
White noted that despite how he was treated by Hollywood, he was proud of the diversity of fans he cultivated all over the country by playing Urkel on “Family Matters.” He also indicated that he uses his platform to advance the variety of Black stories on film and TV.
“I even try to make sure I encourage African-American filmmakers today like, ‘No, don’t forget we want to tell Black stories,’ but we want to make we want to make these themes universal enough that our Black stories can resonate with other people, other cultures.”
When mentioning some of the guests that he’s had on his podcast, such as Keke Palmer and Raven Symone, White was asked if he would ever consider have famously fired cast mate Jaimee Foxworth, who was unceremoniously dropped from Family Matters after its fourth season. While he said he would hold her to the same standard as all his guests, White denies long-held rumors that his character’s increasing influence on the show had anything to do with her dismissal.
He places the blame for that at the feet of creator Thomas Miller, whom he said “famously fired people” and was “a producing thug.” White even implied that Foxworth’s reportedly demanding mother may have gotten on Miller’s bad side.
“Unfortunately, Jaimee’s mother and their family kind of asked for that, and a lot of in a lot of their behaviors, and you know, it became a running joke,” he said. On the set it was like, ‘Tom Miller go come down here.’”
While White says he and Foxworth weren’t exactly close due to an age gap, he remembers her as “the most lippy little girl that you had to be on your toes with, because she had jokes,” but on camera, “no matter how you put the line in her mouth she just couldn’t ‘boom’ deliver the joke, but off camera, off camera hilarious.”
Even so, in light of the recent reconciliation between Will Smith and Janet Hubert, he reacted affirmatively when questioned about if he similarly would like to clear the air with Foxworth. “I’d love to talk to [Foxworth] in the future, I think we’d have a good conversation, absolutely.”
As far as an actual “Family Matters” reboot, White revealed: “I have some things that I would love to do with the legacy. I think the safest place to start would be an adequate reunion if one were to be arranged.” He clarified that he was not the “stick in the mud” holding up an official reunion, and he would be free to meet up with the cast when called.
However, White doesn’t believe that there is a “modern-day Urkel.” He alluded to an alternative method of reckoning with a revival of the show, were he to be in charge.
“I don’t want to see it explored for what it could be now,” White remarked. “I would prefer to see it explored for what it was in the ’90s, to give you a hint of what I would like to do.”
“I wouldn’t even put that on any modern kid, to be Urkel Jr. 3.0. Those are some tough suspenders to have to put on and follow the work that I did.”