Jaleel White Allegedly Threatened To Physically Fight A Family Matters Castmate

A former co-star alleges that Family Matters' Steve Urkel, Jaleel White, attempted to physically fight them after a disagreement on set.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

steve urkel

Jaleel White starred on the ABC sitcom Family Matters from midway through the first episode until the end of the series. He became a huge star and Family Matters became a dominant force on television, far outlasting many shows of its time period. But as a Behind the Music episode might say, there was reportedly trouble behind the laughter. In a recent interview with Entertainment Tonight, actor JoMarie Payton alleged that Jaleel White tried to physically fight her during the filming of an episode. While Payton claims they did not actually come to blows, apparently she was ready to throw down at the time. 

As JoMarie Payton tells it, the cast of Family Matters was filming a scene for the ninth season episode “Original Gangsta Dawg.” In that episode, Jaleel White played both his character Steve Urkel and his cousin, Cornelius (or OGD, if you’re nasty). Cornelius, being a 1990s gangster type, is hiding from a scarier gangster type named Big Squeeze. According to Payton, White wanted to do something unspecified for the scene that she did not feel would pass ABC standards and practices (the internal censorship department common to network television). At hearing this, Payton alleges: 

There was something that he wanted to do and I said we can’t do that, standards and practices will not let that pass. It’s not gonna happen. He wanted to do it anyway… He was so mad, he started kicking and screaming and stuff.

Payton, who played Harriet Winslow on the show for the majority of its run, claims that she then left the scene, but turned around and was ready to fight after another alleged remark from Jaleel white. She further goes on to claim that co-star Darius McCrary (who played her on-screen son Eddie) physically separated them at this point. 

Jaleel White has not commented on JoMarie Payton’s allegations as of yet, and it is probably worth noting that her anecdote seems pretty one-sided. According to White and many other members of the cast, there was plenty of tension on the set of Family Matters during production. White’s character of iconic nerd Steve Urkel was introduced as a one-off character midway through the first season but was promoted to regular status after strong audience reactions. He quickly became the breakout star of the show and the sitcom was retooled to focus on his wacky antics, rather than the relatively grounded family show it was originally conceived of as. Payton herself has acknowledged that there was resentment towards Jaleel White because of this but claims it was simply an adjustment. 

For his part, Jaleel White has stated in the past that he felt unwelcomed by the rest of the cast and that it was a rocky start. Steve Urkel became an iconic sitcom character and made him a major television presence (guest-starring on Full House, Step by Step, and others), but also irrevocably tied him to a nerd stereotype. In recent years, White has frequently worked in voice-acting and starred in the sitcom Me, Myself & I with former Saturday Night Live cast member Bobby Moynihan. Given the recent success of the dramatic re-envisioning of Will Smith’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as Bel-Air on Peacock, it seems only a matter of time until we get the dramatic Family Matters. Or, as sometimes happens, Saturday Night Live got there first.