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David A. Arnold, the much-loved stand-up comedian who was the creator and showrunner of the Nickelodeon series That Girl Lay Lay, has died. He was 54.
“It is with great sadness that we confirm the untimely passing of our husband, father, brother and friend, David A. Arnold,” his family said in a statement Wednesday. “David passed away peacefully today in his home and doctors have ruled the cause of death due to natural causes. Please keep our family in prayer and respect our privacy at this time as we are all shocked and devastated by this loss.”
“Our closely knit comedy community mourns the loss of one of the greatest to ever do it,” said Arnold’s close friend and fellow comedian Chris Spencer. “He was admired by his peers, respected by other veterans and revered by the burgeoning comedians that he mentored. He will me deeply missed, especially by his comedy fraternity.”
A stand-up veteran, Arnold spent more than two decades working at comedy clubs before his career breakthrough, gaining a loyal audience on social media for his hilarious takes on family life and fatherhood. For Netflix, Arnold starred in two comedy specials, 2020’s Fat Ballerina and It Ain’t for the Weak, which premiered July 19.
Born on March 15, 1968, in Cleveland, Arnold attended Beachwood High School. Inspired by Eddie Murphy’s Delirious special, he began his start-up career at 18, his first gig taking place at Cleveland’s Hilarities 4th Street Theatre.
After a stint in the U.S. Navy, Arnold returned to comedy and slowly worked his way up the ladder, spending much of the 1990s as a club comedian and becoming a regular at The Comedy Store and the Laugh Factory. He became a touring comedian and in the 2000s found work as a television writer. His early writing work included the Tyler Perry shows Meet the Browns and House of Payne on TBS and TV One’s The Rickey Smiley Show. In 2018, he was a writer and producer on Netflix’s Full House sequel series, Fuller House.
Having achieved success as a comedy writer, Arnold looked to follow the well-worn path of comedians launching sitcoms based on their sets. He had a deal set up at BET to produce a show based on his life, with Kevin Hart on board as a producer, but the network passed. “BET told me I wasn’t black enough, and I was not marketable,” Arnold told Jalen Rose’s Renaissance Man podcast last week. “That’s what they told me. I’ll never forget this. I was in the middle of developing a show with Kevin Hart.”
He found his audience on social media, however, quickly gaining a huge following for the “rant” videos he posted on raising his daughters and married life. “I picked up my cellphone and I started posting videos and little comedic rants, stand-up that I did 15 years ago that nobody saw. I started putting it on the phone one minute at a time, and I started posting videos with my wife and my kids. I started to rant about what it’s like to raise teenage daughters with a wife that’s always in your goddamn ear … and the next thing you know, this shit took off. And I went from zero followers to over a million on all these platforms,” Arnold told Rose.
With millions of new followers on social media, Netflix acquired his 2019 special Fat Ballerina and released it in 2020. The special leaned into his signature themes of family and marriage. He followed that with It Ain’t for the Weak, which served up more funny family stories and the travails of parenting but also delved more into Arnold’s struggle to make it to the top of the industry. Both specials were taped in Arnold’s hometown of Cleveland.
In 2021, he created and served as writer and showrunner on Nickelodeon’s That Girl Lay Lay. The Will Packer-produced comedy debuted in September 2021 and told the story of a teenager who wishes her AI best friend would come to life. The second season of That Girl Lay Lay debuted in July.
His other television credits include The Tony Rock Project, BET’s Bigger and Nickelodeon’s Side Hustle.
Arnold is survived by his wife, Julie, and daughters Anna Grace and Ashlyn Elizabeth.
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