THERE IS STEVE URKEL, TV SITCOM character. Then there is Steve Erkel, TV scriptwriter and director of educational films and real-life person.
Steve Urkel, as played by 15-year-old Jaleel White on ABC’s Family Matters, is America’s best-known nerd, famous for his high-hitched pants, high-pitched voice and pig-snort laugh.
Steve Erkel, as played by 42-year-old Steve Erkel of Los Angeles, is a regular-looking guy whose life has been complicated by Urkel’s success.
In fact, their homonymous relationship—no problem between consenting adults (or fictitious teenagers)—is no coincidence either. Steve Urkel is named after Steve Erkel, thanks to Michael Warren, the show’s executive producer. Back in 1989, he borrowed his old friend’s name—without telling him. At the time, Steve Urkel was supposed to be a one-episode character on a blind date with Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams). “I had never known anyone named Erkel until I met Steve,” says Warren. “It’s an odd name, but it sure clicked.” So did Jaleel White’s performance, and Steve Urkel became a show-stealing regular.
Then as the voice of the Urkel was heard in the land, Erkel began getting strange reactions. “People started looking at me twice,” he says. “Over the phone, there would be these unusual delays during transactions. Finally, in early 1990, a friend of mine called and said, ‘There’s this guy on TV with your name.’ I watched and saw Michael’s name on the credits, and I said, ‘Ah-hah!’ ”
Erkel gets late-night phone calls from pajama-partying teenagers who scream, “Steve, I love you!”; his girlfriend, Susan Cook, a psychologist, sometimes introduces him as “the other Steve Erkel”; and even his parents, Lorraine and Roy Erkel, who live in Sacramento, find themselves having to explain the whole thing. And, says Erkel, “I have a second cousin in Wisconsin named Steve Erkel; I hear that he’s going through the same stuff.”
As for Warren, he says he would never use a friend’s name for a character again. “Steve’s experience has put an end to that,” says Warren. “From now on I will get my names out of the phone book.” Warren has invited Erkel to the set on several occasions and has introduced him to White. Steve Erkel says the first words out of Steve Urkel’s mouth were: “I’m sorry.”