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|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|
|Alias||Stefan Urquelle (alter ego)|
Jerkel (by various school bullies, including Jimmy)
Urkie (by 3J)
Uncle Steve (by Richie)
Stevie or Stevie-kins (by Myra)
|Occupation||Student, inventor, scientist|
|Family||Herb Urkel (father)|
Diane "Roberta" Urkel (mother)
|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 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 broke out to be its most popular character and gradually became its protagonist. Due to the Urkel character's off-putting characteristics and the way he's written to stir up events and underscore the plot or even move it along, he is considered a nuisance by the original protagonist's family, the Winslows, though they come to accept him over time.
The character is the epitome of a geek or nerd of the era, due to traits such as large, thick eyeglasses, flood pants held up by suspenders, multi-colored cardigan sweaters, and a high-pitched voice. He professes love for his neighbor Laura Winslow, who is a character in the main family of the series, but this love of his is written as an accent on or trigger for events and crises, and is therefore very unrequited.
For the Urkel character's debut through the rest of the series' run, he is central to many of its running gags, primarily property damage and/or personal injury as a result of his inventions going awry or his outright clumsiness. He becomes known by viewers and characters alike for several catchphrases uttered after some humorous misfortune occurs, including "I've fallen and I can't get up!", "Did I do that?" "Whoa, Mama!" and "Look what you did!" (on occasions when someone else caused the damage, though usually the accident was indirectly caused by Urkel).
In syndication, Steve Urkel first appeared on the 4th episode of the first season, "Rachel's First Date" (as the show staff wanted to more naturally introduce him to audiences upon repeated viewings). On the 12th episode of the first season, "Laura's First Date", he reappears as a nerdy young boy who takes Laura Winslow out on a date. While he is madly in love with her, Laura finds Steve grating and doesn't return his affection. While intended as a minor character, Urkel became very popular for his oddball antics. He soon became a recurring character, and joined the main cast beginning with the season two premiere "Rachel's Place".
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.
An archetypal nerd, Steve Urkel is characterized as kind and well-meaning, but bungling and a meddler. He is fiercely protective of and obsessed with his unrequited love Laura Winslow, and this admiration extends to the rest of the Winslow family. However, Steve is comically clumsy and inept and his attempts to help the Winslows usually go awry. This puts him at odds with the family patriarch Carl, who routinely throws Urkel out of his house.
Later episodes suggest that Steve's attachment to the Winslows stems from his bad relationship with his own family. Urkel often hints that most of his relatives, including his (unseen) parents, despise him and refuse to associate with him. This culminates in the two moving to Russia without him, whereupon he moves in with the Winslows.
Urkel dresses unfashionably for someone his age (he is most commonly seen wearing suspenders, brightly colored shirts, and high water pants) and has a number of eccentric hobbies and interests, including Polka dancing and accordion playing. His motor vehicle of choice is the small three-wheeled Isetta. Unlike his friends, he has little interest in popular culture and athletic endeavors.
While he is unpopular with his schoolmates, Urkel is a brilliant student and is on a first-name basis with his teachers. He is a genius inventor as well, and his fantastical but unreliable gadgets (including a transformation device and a time machine) are central to many Family Matters plots and gags.
During the season five episode "Dr. Urkel and Mr. Cool," in a takeoff on The Nutty Professor films, Urkel devises a plan to win Laura's heart: transforming his DNA using a serum, which suppresses his "nerd genes" and brings out his "cool" genes. This results in the alter ego known as Stefan Urquelle, played by Jaleel White in more casual attire. Initially, Laura is enamored with the smoother Stefan, but asks that he turn back into Steve when Stefan's self-centeredness makes itself apparent.
Steve improves the formula in the season five episode "Stefan Returns" to reduce its negative effects on his personality, and invents a "transformation chamber" allowing him to become Stefan at will. He would change into Stefan several times – even while dating Myra – but some circumstance would force Steve to turn into his normal self again. With his narcissistic tendencies toned down, Laura falls deeply in love with Steve's alter-ego.
In the seventh-season finale "Send in the Clones," Steve creates a cloning machine and winds up creating a perfect duplicate of himself. Myra is initially excited, but eventually realizes that two Steves are just too much. To clear up the situation, Laura proposes that one of the Steves be permanently turned into Stefan, so that she and Myra can both be with the one they love. This Stefan becomes a recurring character and eventually proposes to Laura in the ninth season. After weighing her choices in the flashback episode "Pop Goes the Question," Laura chooses Steve over Stefan. Stefan departs and is not 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 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 not only Laura's shoes, but in sense the Winslows as well. 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 as he matures and 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 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.
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.
Jo Marie Payton, who played Harriet Winslow, admitted that she felt the Urkel character had hogged much of the show's attention and disrupted the close family relationship she had formed with the rest of the cast. She experienced increasing burnout over the course of the show and felt that the overbearing focus on Urkel had made the show jump the shark; she very nearly quit when the show moved to CBS but agreed to stay for the first several episodes while a new actress, Judyann Elder, was cast as Harriet. White is one of the few living members of the cast with whom Payton no longer speaks regularly. She nevertheless speaks well of her experiences and appreciates the effect that the Urkel had on the show's popularity and thus the residuals everyone receives from the show.
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 (from Maude & The Golden Girls) 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.
Rick Sanchez pays some form of homage to The Urkel Dance with "The Rick Dance" in the Rick and Morty episode Ricksy Business.
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.. He also jams with Uncle Jesse and gives Michelle a penny for her piggy bank, telling her that "with prevailing interest rates, that penny will be worth three cents by the turn of the century". 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.
- 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.
- Victorious - In the episode titled, "Locked Up!", Urkel is referenced when Robbie Shapiero accidentally kills the chancellor's octopus by being clumsy and Sychowitz says, "Nice one, Urkel."
- Fuller House - In the Season 3 finale, Urkel was mentioned by D.J.. In a January 2018 interview with TVLine’s Andy Swift, series creator and former showrunner Jeff Franklin mentioned that they have talked about White reprising the role and that they had some ideas for the character if White decides to reprise the role.
- Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? - Urkel is confirmed to be a guest star on the animated Scooby-Doo series, with White reprising his role.
- South Park - in Chickenpox, Eric Cartman has a sleeping bag of him.
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.
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