David A. Arnold, comedian and creator of Nickelodeon’s ‘That Girl Lay Lay,’ dies at 54
Actor, writer, showrunner and veteran stand-up comedian David A. Arnold died Wednesday, his family said. He was 54.
“It is with great sadness that we confirm the untimely passing of our husband, father, brother and friend, David A. Arnold,” the comic’s family wrote in a statement to The Times. “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.”
The statement did not specify a cause of death beyond “natural causes.”
Arnold had recently released his second Netflix comedy special “It Ain’t for the Weak,” which was produced by Kevin Hart’s production company Hartbeat. The July special was filmed at the Hanna Theatre in Arnold’s hometown of Cleveland.
Arnold was a huge presence in the L.A. comedy scene, including his packed stand-up shows and his appearances on Comedy Central and BET.
Arnold’s animated style of comedy often focused on his family — his wife, Julie L. Harkness, and his two daughters, Anna-Grace and Ashlyn. His spin on fatherhood was a hit at the Laugh Factory — including his role as a former host at longstanding comedy show Chocolate Sundaes — as well as the Improv and the Comedy Store.
His comic genius wasn’t limited to the stage. Arnold was the creator and showrunner for the hit Nickelodeon buddy comedy series “That Girl Lay Lay,” starring teen hip-hop artist Alaya “That Girl Lay Lay” High and Gabrielle Nevaeh Green. He was also an executive producer of the series alongside Will Packer (“Beast,” “Girls Trip”).
The show debuted in 2021 before streaming on Netflix, where it became one of the 10 most-watched shows on the platform. The second season premiered in July.
“We are shocked and incredibly saddened by the sudden passing of our dear friend and creative partner, David A. Arnold,” Nickelodeon said in a statement to The Times. “On behalf of everyone at Nickelodeon, we send our thoughts and condolences to his family, his friends and his fans.
“David was an immense talent and a gifted storyteller with a wide range of fans, from adults through his stand-up, to kids and families through the Nickelodeon show he created and executive produced for us, ‘That Girl Lay Lay.’”
The death of ‘Big Mouth’ and ‘Bust Down’ star Jak Knight last week has been ruled a suicide.
Arnold has written and produced TV shows including “Fuller House” on Netflix and “Bigger” on BET+. The comedian of 20 years was one of the few black showrunners in Hollywood.
Many comics mourned as news of Arnold’s death spread through social media.
“Our closely knit comedy community mourns the loss of one of the greatest to ever do it,” his friend and fellow comedian Chris Spencer told The Times. “He was admired by his peers, respected by other veterans, and revered by the burgeoning comedians that he mentored. He will be deeply missed, especially by his comedy fraternity.”
“I just found out about @DavidAArnold passing. I’m standing 25 feet away from where I last shared a laugh with him,” comedian Eric Schwatz tweeted. “This is not fair. He was one of the best comedians today and an even better human. I’m crushed and now I have to go on stage and try to be funny. Love you, David.”
“He was a teacher,” comedian Jeremy “Gumbo” Christian told The Times. “Even though he had his TV writing career, worked with Kevin Hart, he still had major aspirations to be a stand-up comedian and make it on Netflix, and he finally did it in the last couple of years.”
“He used his time to give back to the community. He poured into me and inspired me to learn improv,” Christian said, recalling that Arnold also taught classes at the Comedy Union, a now-closed club known for showcasing newcomer and veteran Black comedians.
“He was one of the first people to do my podcast and he always really inspired me,” comedian Bill Dawes said. “We talked about how everything he manifested during the podcast came to light this year…. I truly admired him and ironically would always rib him about how hot and fit he looked now that he was famous. I just feel bad for his family, his wife and kids. What a great guy.”
Ali Lerman contributed to this report.
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