Jaleel White is best known for his work as America’s favorite nerd on the hit 90s tv show Family Matters. But years before he began wearing suspenders and large bifocal glasses as Steve Urkel, White set his eyes on playing a Cosby kid. He didn’t get a part on the show but doesn’t have any regrets about it.
Jaleel White’s audition for ‘The Cosby Show’ went well
Five years before Family Matters made its debut on ABC, The Cosby Show was already No. 1 on the airwaves. Like Family Matters, the concept of The Cosby Show focused on a middle class African American family, breaking the idea of negative stereotypes associated with Black family life in America.
White was auditioning at the time of The Cosby Show’s inception and was happy to land an audition to try and impress Bill Cosby.
“In 1984, I auditioned,” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2017. “They brought everybody that made the show, all the kids — they probably had us audition over the course of like five or six hours. My agent had been told that they’ve pretty much settled on [me], so I went to the audition thinking I was just going on a last audition. And then, all of a sudden, this little girl walks in.”
Understandably, White was devestated. “I went home, and I just cried my eyes out,” he remembers. “But I did things that a kid does when they’re hurt, and they’re acting out. My mom had to grab me and shake me. She was like, ‘If you ever react like that again to an audition, you’re done [acting].”
Why Jaleel White didn’t land a role on ‘The Cosby Show’ but considers it a ‘blessing’
White revealed during his recent episode of TV One’s Uncensored that he didn’t get the gig on Cosby because the gender of the character Rudy (Keshia Knight-Pulliam) was changed at the last minute.
“The network wanted Bill to have two sons, but Bill only had one son in real life,” White explains. “And Bill pushed back and he wanted the cast to mirror his actual family. That’s why the character Rudy was named Rudy because he was always intended for a boy.”
After his disappointment wore off, White continued auditioning and eventually landed a few guest spots. He was cast in another show that was called Charlie & Co. with Flip Wilson and Gladys Knight. The show was canceled midway through the first season.
White almost quit acting for good before being cast in Family Matters as Steve Urkel. He became the breakout star. The show lasted for nine seasons, outlasting The Cosby Show.
Looking back, White says being rejected by Cosby had its perks because of his eventual work on Family Matters. “Not having gotten The Cosby Show was a huge blessing in my life but I never like to say that it wasn’t a blessing for Malcolm [Jamal Warner] or the other actors who went on that journey. It just wasn’t meant for me.”