On this day in comedy on November 27, 1976 actor Jaleel Ahmad White was born in Culver City, CA.
White got his start in show business doing TV commercials. One was for Jello pudding Pops with Bill Cosby. White was three years old. His first TV part was in 1984 on The Jeffersons. He was later cast as the son of Flip Wilson and Gladys Knight in the short-lived CBS sitcom, Charlie and Company. After that he guest starred in sitcoms, appeared in pilots and made-for-TV movies and then came his big break on ABC.
At the age of 12 White landed the part of Steve Urkel on Family Matters, starring Reginald VelJohnson and Jo Marie Payton. The character of Urkel, a certified nerd, was only supposed to be a one-time thing, but White blew it away and was made a cast regular. It was mutually beneficial because White ended up writing episodes; one being the top rated for that season. The character of Urkel was so popular that he had his own cereal and doll. White was a cultural fixture.
Once Family Matters went off the air White attempted to expand his horizons. He was only 22 and had been on one of the longest running African-American shows in TV history (11 seasons) so he was ready to be taken seriously as an adult. He starred in the UPN show, Grown Ups. He wanted to learn his craft so he earned a degree at UCLA in film and television. He got guest-starring roles, but he was getting those before Family Matters. White had to come to grips with the fact he was type cast. Audiences and casting agents looked at Jaleel White and saw Steve Urkel, but he still had to eat. So he did animated voice-overs (Sonic the Hedgehog), web series, music videos, small parts in big films (Dreamgirls) and a brief stint on Dancing with the Stars.
Jaleel White has won three NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Youth Actor and in 1991 he won the Young Artist Award for Outstanding Young Comedian in a Television Series.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
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