||This article describes a work or element of fiction in a primarily in-universe style. (October 2013)|
|Family Matters character|
Jaleel White as Steve Urkel
|First appearance||Rachel's First Date (only in syndicated episodes),
Laura's First Date (in first run episodes)
|Last appearance||Lost in Space (Part 2)|
|Created by||Thomas L. Miller
Robert L. Boyett
|Portrayed by||Jaleel White|
|Full name||Steven Quincy Urkel|
Jerkel (by various school bullies, including Jimmy)
Urkie (by 3J)
Uncle Steve (by Richie)
Stevie or Stevie-kins (by Myra)
Stefan Urquelle (alter ego)
|Occupation||Student, inventor, scientist|
|Family||Herb Urkel (father; revealed in "Man's Best Friend")
Diane "Roberta" Urkel (mother; revealed in "Man's Best Friend" & "Hot Wheels")
|Relatives||Myrtle May Urkel (cousin)
"Big Daddy" Urkel (uncle)
Cecil Urkel (uncle)
Cornelius Eugene "Original Gangsta Dawg" Urkel (cousin)
Julie Urkel (cousin)
Oona Urkel (aunt)
Omar Urkel (uncle)
Ernie Urkel (uncle)
Stefan Urquelle (clone, originally alter-ego)
Muriel Urkel (aunt)
Cleotus Urkel (cousin)
Dirk Urkel (cousin)
Steven Quincy Urkel (generally known as Steve Urkel or just simply Urkel) is a fictional character on the ABC/CBS sitcom Family Matters, who was portrayed by Jaleel White. Originally slated to have been a one-time only character on the show, he soon became its most popular character and gradually became its main protagonist.
Steve is the epitome of a geek/nerd, with large, thick eyeglasses, flood pants held up by suspenders, multi-colored cardigan sweaters, and a high-pitched voice. He professes an unrequited love for his neighbor Laura Winslow, perpetually annoys her father, Carl, and tries to befriend her brother, Eddie. Amongst the rest of the family, Harriette Winslow, Rachel Crawford and Estelle Winslow are more accepting and caring of Urkel.
Throughout the series' run, Steve is central to many of its recurring gags, primarily property damage and/or personal injury as a result of his inventions going awry or his outright clumsiness. He becomes known for several catchphrases uttered after some humorous misfortune occurs, including "I've fallen and I can't get up!" after he accidentally got drunk and fell off the edge of a building in the episode "Life of the Party," "Did I do that?" (previously used by Curly in the 1934 Three Stooges short Punch Drunks), "Whoa, Mama!" and "Look what you did" (if, rarely, someone else caused the damage). Additionally, he frequently insinuates "You love me, don't you?" and "I'm wearing you down baby, I'm wearing you down" to Laura Winslow, the usual object of his affection.
Steve Urkel first appeared on the 12th episode of the first season, "Laura's First Date", as a nerdy young boy who took Laura Winslow out on a date, where he is depicted as being madly in love with her. But, in an example of unrequited love, Laura did not return these feelings because of Steve's nerdy, infuriating personality. Although intended to only appear once, White's portrayal became very popular with the show's studio audience during the live taping of the episode – his popularity later crossing over with the home viewing audience after the episode aired – for his humorous, geeky antics. After appearing in other episodes, he joined the main cast beginning with the season two premiere "Rachel's Place". Throughout the course of the series, Steve maintains his extreme infatuation with Laura and regularly invites himself over for unwanted visits to her house, much to the annoyance of the Winslows. Among Steve's other famed character traits are his exceptional scientific skills, crafting devices that would be impossible to construct in reality, his absurdly destructive clumsiness, and his kind heart.
Steve is commonly known and respected by other characters for his kindness to others, his never-ending love and loyalty for those he holds dear, and, alongside with Harriette, his position as a voice of reason and source of wisdom for the often bickering members of the Winslow family, all of which serve as redeeming qualities for his generally unwelcome or tolerated presence. He always cares for and means well for other people, but is often the misunderstood victim of the Winslows' anger and rejection, especially of Carl, Eddie and Laura, who all struggle to see through his clumsiness and annoying behavior and to understand and appreciate him for his positive traits.
Although he is often portrayed positively for being a kind and virtuous person compared to other repentant characters, Steve is not a flawless character. While he is indeed kind and seemingly means well for others, Steve tends to be needy, overbearing, and often demonstrates very poor empathy, understanding, and consideration of other people's feelings, especially when they feel negatively towards him (whether those feelings are justifiable or not). He shows little regard or respect for Laura's choice to not reciprocate Steve's affections. One example of Steve's lack of consideration for others is in the season three episode "Brain Over Brawn," when he accidentally caused Carl and Eddie to fall off of the roof while they were installing a satellite dish, only to demand an apology from Carl for unintentionally landing on top of Steve, and even going so far as to fight back when Carl subsequently banished him from the Winslow house, leading Waldo to arrange for Carl and Steve to settle their issues on American Gladiators. Steve's random awareness of his own overbearing presence is addressed multiple times throughout the series, yet even when he is aware of the agony he causes to others, his overbearing need for attention is easily greater than his largely weak desire to correct his own flaws for the comfort of other people.
Steve is also quite selfish. He lives very strictly the way he feels most comfortable, and unintentionally forces people around him to tolerate him or adapt around his lifestyle. Because his feelings are too sensitive to rejection by the people he loves most, the Winslows are very hesitant to leave him heartbroken. Although easily prone to having his feelings hurt, he remains rarely ever concerned about why people get so angry at him. So while he is considerably vulnerable to emotional pain, he is almost completely immune to guilt, regret, and any chance to learn from his mistakes, the way the Winslows do. Urkel would later see the error of his ways and be more respectful of other people's privacies when he finds himself in the same position with Myra behaving similar to him.
Nonetheless, Steve is kind, bears no hatred for anyone, and is extremely loyal to the Winslow family, whom he is always ready to be there for. He would always be ready to forgive the Winslows when they take advantage of him, behave coldly towards him, harshly reject him and then learn that they hurt his feelings. Steve loves the Winslows like they were his real family, and whether through kindness, persistence or force, he is seen working tirelessly to become as much a part of their lives as a genuine family member.
Despite being poorly conscious of his social life, Steve has often demonstrated good judgment with the law and acute suspicions of law-breaking. Steve was concerned about Eddie a few times when he made poor judgment calls. This was first shown in "Jailhouse Blues" when Steve suspected Clarence had stolen the Porsche and warned Eddie not to go on the joyride, only to watch him get in the car anyway and regret it when the cops put an end to the ride. In "Hot Stuff", he learned about the huge discount of an expensive stereo system that Eddie bought from Weasel's friend and quickly proved it was stolen. In "Money Out The Window", as Eddie proved he had not learned his lesson, Steve tried to warn him in vain not to get involved in gambling again, only to watch him lose himself in debt. And in "Scammed", Urkel suspected the owner of the Ace Lounge being a con-artist and warned his friends not to enter, only to once again watch Eddie proceed anyways and regret it later.
Interestingly, Steve does have somewhat of a spiritual side despite his vast knowledge in science, such as his belief in Santa Claus. When Laura asks him how Santa Claus can deliver presents all over the world in just one night, Steve replies, "Well, it's a miracle! You don't analyze miracles- you just accept them." In season three he joins a church and became a Christian. He tells Estelle that his father asked him how, with his scientific training, he could believe in God when he can't see, hear or touch Him. Steve replied that he can't see, hear or touch an atom either, but he believes they exist. As Estelle points out, this is what we call faith. And Steve definitely holds both to his scientific training and spiritual faith in Christ.
Family Matters co-creator Michael Warren named the character after his friend, writer and director Steve Erkel. Due to the show and the character's tremendous popularity during the early 1990s, Erkel encountered difficulties using his own name; he received many prank phone calls from "Laura" asking for "Steve", and businesses found his name to be suspicious. Warren stated that had he known that the character would reappear for years he would not have named him after his friend.
The Urkels are very intelligent people; Steve and his parents, Herb and Diane, were known to do the Sunday crossword puzzles in pen in about 20 minutes. In fact, Steve himself was known for considering his teachers and school officials as equals, calling them by their given names instead of Mr., Mrs., or Ms. He is also fluent in Japanese and Korean, has studied French in high school, and would sometimes speak Japanese to Principal Shimata, Vanderbilt High School's Japanese-American principal.
However, on many occasions, it is said or referenced that Steve's parents have nothing but total contempt for him, and do their best to avoid him at all times. For example, when he was born his father, Dr. Urkel, tried to push him back in (as revealed in season three's "Words Hurt," while Steve was recalling his birth as he was under hypnosis to find out why he had been hitting Carl with a newspaper while sleepwalking), and his parents do not own a car because he was born in one. In the season three episode "Choir Trouble", Steve says that his dad questioned him for going to church with the Winslows and becoming a born-again Christian, implying that his parents are atheists. He also once mentioned that his parents do not feed him every day. This perhaps explains why he spends his time at the Winslows and not at his own home. However, when Steve created his new persona, Stefan, in the season five episode "Dr. Urkel and Mr. Cool," they started to show their love for him and introduced him to his relatives. It may be assumed that his parents, although nerds, are very shallow people and prefer Stefan's company rather than Steve's.
The viewers see that Steve has at least four relatives who do care about him. In the season one episode "The Big Fix (a.k.a. Mercy Date)," his uncle Ernie drives him on his date with Laura, and takes a picture of the two. He also has a good relationship with his "Aunt Oona from Altoona" (played by Donna Summer). Oona visits Steve in two episodes (season five's "Aunt Oona" and season eight's "Pound Foolish") and acts as a mother figure to him, in addition to Estelle. He also mentions his Uncle Cecil throughout the series, and implies that Uncle Cecil (who has a police record) cares for Steve. His cousin Myrtle is very close to him and treats him like her brother. Other relatives included Myrtle's father, "Big Daddy" (played by Reginald VelJohnson in a dual role), who did not think Eddie was a good choice for his daughter except when bribed with cash. It is mentioned in season two that Big Daddy and the other relatives (excluding Oona, Cecil, Ernie and Myrtle) pay Steve a lot of money not to visit them. However, they tolerated him after he got a makeover and became less clumsy. Steve has a gangster cousin from Detroit named Cornelius Eugene Urkel (also played by White), who went by the moniker "Original Gangsta Dawg"; Steve does not have a good relationship with him and tries to avoid him at all costs. This is because whenever he comes to visit, Cornelius wants money from him. Steve also has another cousin named Julie, who is a friend of D.J. Tanner and lives in San Francisco (as seen in the Full House episode "Stephanie Gets Framed," in which Jaleel White guest starred as Steve Urkel). In his first episode, "Laura's First Date", Steve's father is mentioned in the line: "Did I mention my dad knows Wayne Newton?" It was also once mentioned that his uncle Ernie owns a hearse.
In the season six episode "Home Sweet Home," after Steve's father is invited to showcase a microscopic camera for doctors to use to detect brain damage, Steve's parents move to Russia without him as he did not want to leave Chicago and effectively, the Winslows. Steve was then allowed to live with the Winslows; however, in the season seven episode "She's Back," a subplot has Steve visiting his parents.
In addition to his parents, his family also included his cousin, Myrtle Urkel, whose innocent infatuation with Laura's brother, Eddie, was equal to Steve's love for Laura. However, Eddie never grew to like Myrtle – unlike Laura, who did grow to like Steve (thanks in some part to Myra). In Myrtle's final appearance in season nine's "Don't Make Me Over," she realized that she is acting like a prostitute (due to shopping and a makeover with Laura and Maxine) and decided to end her infatuation with Eddie to pursue some other men.
The Urkel family, along with Steve, have very good luck in gambling; in season two's "Busted," Eddie damaged Carl's car and needed $800 to pay for the damage without Carl noticing, but he could not afford it. Steve offered to help Eddie by using his abilities at an illegal casino. Eddie was glad Steve used his mathematical abilities in this manner, as Urkel managed to win them $32,000, only to have the gambling den be raided by the police. Eddie ends up having to face the music in front of Carl, who before the tirade said that Steve is facing appropriate punishment from Dr. Urkel.
During the season five episode "Dr. Urkel and Mr. Cool," Urkel devised the ultimate plan to win Laura's heart: transforming his DNA using a serum he dubbed "Cool Juice" to suppress his "nerd" genes and bring out his "cool" genes. This resulted in the alter ego known as Stefan Urquelle, played by White in more casual attire and with a smoother delivery. Initially, Laura is enamored with Stefan, but asks that he turn back into Steve towards the end of the episode when Stefan's self-centered, narcissistic traits come out.
Steve later improved the formula in the season five episode "Stefan Returns" to limit the effects it had on his new personality, and renamed the formula "Boss Sauce." He also invented a "transformation chamber," which allowed him to turn into Stefan for extended periods of time (as well as to avoid developing rashes in "personal areas" from direct consumption of the formula). He changed into Stefan several times – even while dating Myra – but some circumstance caused Steve to change back into his regular persona each time. During these sporadic appearances, Stefan's narcissism seemed to improve and Laura fell deeply in love with Steve in this persona. In the season six two-part episode "To Be or Not To Be," Steve ended up stuck as Stefan temporarily, after Myra had tampered with the transformation chamber. Unbeknownst to her, Stefan had invited Carl to use his transformation chamber to cure his farsightedness over insecurity about wearing glasses, since Stefan did not need glasses. Only when he starts the chamber and realizing her mistake, Myra frantically tells Stefan to stop the chamber because she tampered with it and reset the dial to nerd, rather than suave. Stefan attempts to stop it, but the broken transformation chamber ends up creating "Carl Urkel", resulting in Stefan having to help fix the chamber while Myra explains herself to him. However, it took a week for Stefan to fix the chamber because his scientific genius from his time as Steve was in Carl. After fixing the chamber and getting Carl back to normal, Stefan decides to return to being Steve for the time being.
The transformation chamber had other uses for Steve besides turning him into Stefan, but similar unpredictable results, such as when Urkel attempted to fuse his DNA with Albert Einstein, he accidentally got the DNA and personality of Elvis Presley. He used the chamber and DNA to become a martial arts master, Bruce Lee, to deal with bad guys since he knows that Stefan is not enough.
Late in the sixth season in "We're Going to Disney World," Steve transformed into Stefan as part of an inventor's competition at Walt Disney World; however, Laura sabotaged the transformation chamber to prevent him from turning back into Steve. During his extended stint as Stefan, he proposed to Laura in front of Cinderella Castle. Laura accepted, but their engagement was broken off when Myra appealed to Stefan and Laura revealed her sabotage. While just about everyone liked Stefan, Myra disliked him immensely, believing he was a joke and knows that her "Steviekins" was perfect already.
In the seventh season finale "Send in the Clones," Steve created a cloning machine and wound up cloning himself. Myra was initially excited, but eventually realized that two Steves were just too much. To clear up the situation, Laura proposed that one of the Steves be permanently turned into Stefan, so that she and Myra can both be with the one they love.
The permanent Stefan made several more appearances throughout the series, pursuing a career as a model in season eight's "Paris Vacation," and proposed to Laura again in the ninth season. After weighing her choices in the flashback episode "Pop Goes the Question," Laura chose Steve over Stefan. Stefan departed and was never seen again.
Steve had been in love with Laura since they were in kindergarten. However, she did not always reciprocate the feelings that he had for her and would date other guys more to her taste. Unlike Greta's successful warding off of Myrtle, Laura's would-be boyfriends would often bully Steve, but it always ends with him warding them off, especially when he knows most of them would end up hurting her in the end and refused to allow them to take advantage of her. Steve has shown that, unlike Myrtle, he does respect Laura's personal space. However, she has shown appreciation for Steve when he selflessly risked himself to not only protect her, but also has saved her father's life. In the ninth season episode "Out With the Old," he finally gets himself a makeover in time for Laura's charity bachelor auction, and, though it was not a success, her feelings for him finally changed, and they eventually become engaged to be married by "Pop Goes the Question" later that season.
Steve had a short and brief relationship with Susie in season two, but their relationship ended when he introduced her to the president of the chess club. In the season three episode "The Love God," Vonda Mahoney also became interested in him after he tutored her for a class. Fearing that she wants to make herself "easy" for Eddie to date, Steve teaches her the dangers of it and helps her have love and self-respect for herself. Although Vonda felt better about herself, this did not sit well with Eddie, who wanted to pound Steve for it.
In season four's "A Thought In The Dark", Steve was set up with Laura's boyfriend Ted's cousin, Myra Monkhouse (played by Michelle Thomas) so Laura could have some space from his infatuation. Although he was initially attracted to Myra because of her intelligence and sweet personality, he was soon disgusted by her jealous and possessive nature by the end of "Buds 'N Buns". This was explored in both seasons five and nine, when Steve finally saw what life was like in Laura's shoes when he pursued her relentlessly. Though in love with him, Myra was also frustrated with Steve and asked him why he even loves Laura. When he agrees to go steady with her in season six's "Paradise Bluff", she did somewhat revert to the sweet, intelligent girl he was originally attracted to. By season nine, he grows apart from her when Laura started to return the feelings he had for her. In "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do," during their date at the restaurant Amour, it became clear to Steve that Myra hated his makeover and demanded that he return to the sexy nerd she loved so much. When he refused, she broke up with him first, although it later turned out to be a ploy so she could get him to renounce his love for Laura and stay with her. When that failed, Myra resorted to stalking and spying on him with illegal surveillance gear in her room with a spy cam attached to his glasses. In "Crazy For You," she teamed up with Stefan to stop Steve and Laura's date. Although initially successful, Laura still wanted to date him and Myra vowed never to stop stalking him until he took her back. In the following episode "Crazier For You," Steve has learned that Myra was spying on him and confronted her about it. He orders her to stop stalking him and renounce her love for him because he will never take her back and reaffirms his love for Laura. She refused and got Laura falsely arrested for stealing her watch. However, Steve was able to drop the charges when he exposed Myra for stalking him with illegal spy gear and the police pursued criminal charges against her. When she learned of his engagement to Laura, she continued to carry the torch even when he went into space.
In syndication, Steve is incorporated into the teaser scene of "Rachel's First Date"; his first appearance in the original broadcasts is in the 1989 episode "Laura's First Date", in which Carl and Eddie separately set up dates for Laura for a dance or party (both terms are used in the episode), and the first thing known about him is that he allegedly ate a mouse, and he later makes reference to a mouse when speaking to Carl, implying that it might be true. Prior to Steve Urkel's introduction, the show was on the brink of cancellation due to mediocre ratings. After Urkel was introduced, several scripts had to be hastily rewritten to accommodate the character, while several first-season episodes that had been completed had new opening gag sequences filmed featuring Steve trying to push open the Winslows' front door while the family holds it shut. The addition of Steve immediately helped the show boost its modest ratings. White was credited as a guest star in the first season and became a regular member of the cast in season two.
The Urkel Dance
The Urkel Dance was a novelty dance that originated in the season two episode "Life of the Party". It was based around the character of Steve Urkel and essentially incorporated movements which made the dancer's posture more like his. The lyrics instructed the dancer how to pose:
"If you want to do the Steve Urkel dance,
All you have to do is hitch up your pants,
Bend your knees, and stick out your pelvis;
(I'm telling you, baby, it's better than Elvis!)".
The dance was popular enough to appear on another show, Step by Step, when the Steve Urkel character appeared in a crossover in the season one episode "The Dance".
Jaleel White also performed the song, in character as Steve Urkel, on the 5th Annual American Comedy Awards. Bea Arthur joined him on stage to "Do The Urkel," after which she said, "Hey MC Hammer, try and touch that!"
A promotional cassette single of the song that accompanies the dance was pressed and distributed in limited numbers. A T-shirt was also produced featuring lyrics and Urkel's likeness.
Appearances on other shows
- Full House – In the 1991 episode, "Stephanie Gets Framed", Steve is called in to help Stephanie Tanner (Jodie Sweetin) deal with her anxieties after she has to get glasses. He was cousin to a friend of D. J.. Incidentally, Family Matters did not air on the night of the episode's original airdate (January 25, 1991). It is implied that he found himself in San Francisco in the Full House universe before paying a visit to the Lambert household from Step by Step.
- Step by Step – In the series' second episode, "The Dance", Steve lands in the Lambert-Foster family's backyard after launching himself with a rocket pack from the living room of the Winslows' house in the Family Matters episode "Brain Over Brawn" (the two scenes being shown in uninterrupted sequence, as Family Matters and Step by Step aired back to back on ABC's TGIF lineup at the time). He then helps his science-fair pen pal, Mark Foster (Christopher Castile), and lifts Alicia "Al" Lambert (Christine Lakin)'s spirits after her potential date dumps her just before a school dance. White reprises his "Do the Urkel" dance in the scene where Al gives the boy that dumped her his comeuppance. White also makes a brief two-second cameo as Steve in the 1997 episode "A Star Is Born", snapping a clapperboard on the set of the movie that Al was cast in over her two sisters.
- Meego – In this short-lived series, Steve makes a non-speaking cameo appearance in the second episode "Love and Money," where he angrily retrieves a television set stolen by Meego. He then appears in the third episode "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" helping out at a model car derby competition.
- Additionally, in the Family Matters episode "Beauty and the Beast," Steve sends a chain letter to his friend Cory Matthews, who lived in Philadelphia. The reference is to Ben Savage's character from Boy Meets World, but there were no on-screen crossovers. In an episode of Boy Meets World, Cory says he receives a chain letter from his friend Steve.
In 2010, Westside Middle School in Memphis, Tennessee outlined its dress code policy on sagging pants, asking students to pull them up or get "Urkeled", a reference to the character. In this practice, teachers would forcibly pull students' pants up and attach them to their waist using zip ties. Students would also have their photo taken and posted on a board in the hallway, for all of their classmates to view. In an interview with NBC affiliate WMC-TV, Principal Bobby White stated that the general idea is to fight pop culture with pop culture. One teacher at the school claimed to have "Urkeled" up to 80 students per week, although after five weeks the number dropped to 18.
At the height of his popularity, Urkel's name was branded to several products including a short-lived fruit flavored cereal known as Urkel-Os and a Steve Urkel pullstring doll. There was also a T-shirt line that was created in 2002, but was discontinued shortly after its inception.
The combination of Steve's uncool persona and black racial identity won the nation's hearts and was partly due to White’s own comedic genius. However Urkel's appeal also originates from a blend of popular American fascinations: opposing the myth of biological determinism, and continuing the Horatio Alger myth; Urkel, in this case, must pull himself up the social status rungs of youth subculture.
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