1 of ‘Family Matters’ Most Popular Characters Resulted In a Lot of Prank Calls

Family Matters is a TV show that ran throughout the ’90s, earning millions of devoted fans all around the world.

The show, a spinoff of the series Perfect Strangers, focused on the Winslow family, a middle-class African-American family living in the city of Chicago, Illinois. With lots of heart and happiness, Family Matters featured real-life situations and stories that reminded many viewers of their own family situations.

Undoubtedly, the most popular character in the series was Steve Urkel, a nerdy young man who inadvertently launched a pop culture empire — however, what many fans might not know is that the character of Urkel was actually based on a real person. 

Estelle (Rosetta LeNoire), Rachel (Telma Hopkins), Harriette (Jo Marie Payton), Judy (Jaimee Foxworth), Eddie (Darius McCrary), Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams), Richie (Bryton McClure), Urkel (Jaleel White) and Carl (Reginald VelJohnson)
Estelle (Rosetta LeNoire), Rachel (Telma Hopkins), Harriette (Jo Marie Payton), Judy (Jaimee Foxworth), Eddie (Darius McCrary), Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams), Richie (Bryton McClure), Urkel (Jaleel White) and Carl (Reginald VelJohnson) | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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Steve Urkel, played by the young star Jaleel White, was introduced on Family Matters midway through the first season. The character, often referred to simply as “Urkel,” quickly took off in popularity, becoming the runaway star of the series. Eventually, Urkel became the series protagonist, forming the basis for many of the show’s most popular storylines and situations.

The ultimate nerd, Urkel was often seen wearing suspenders, saddle shoes, thick glasses, and loud, multi-colored cardigans. His catchphrases also became closely identified with his character, with sayings such as “Whoa, Mama!” and “Look what you did!” entering the pop culture lexicon.

Urkel remained a central presence all throughout the series run, until the show went off the air in 1998. White himself has gone on to appear in a wide variety of projects, but remains best known for the character of Urkel, even reprising the role in several additional projects, including animated television shows. 

Who was Steve Urkel based on?

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Oddly enough, the character of Steve Urkel was actually based on a real person — albeit with a spelling of “Erkel” rather than “Urkel.” According to HuffPost, Urkel was based on a producer friend of showrunner Michael Warren. As Jaleel White admitted, “the actual name Steve Urkel, is actually a friend of Michael Warren, one of our producers. So he can’t order pizza. I don’t think he’s had a decent phone order of anything in the last 20 years.”

White also stated that he got the opportunity to meet the real-life Urkel at least once during the series: “He came to the set one time. He was like, ‘You’ve created a nightmare for me.’ And I can only imagine with TSA. ‘Hey, this guy over here! Look look look!'”

The real Steve Urkel got a lot of prank calls 

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Not only did Steve Erkel have a hard time doing regular things like going through TSA or going to the grocery store, but he also had to deal with a steady stream of harassment.

According to Mental Floss, as the character of Steve Urkel became increasingly popular on television and with viewers, the real-life Steve Erkel had to deal with an increasing amount of prank calls from fans of the show. 

Fortunately, the real Steve Erkel was able to remain mostly under the radar after the show went off the air — thus, he is known to fans today as a myth, a man who might have inspired a legendary character but who had to deal with a lot of irritation because of it. Stay tuned to Showbiz Cheat Sheet for all the latest entertainment news!