Stand-up comedian David A. Arnold may have traded in his mic for a pen when he created Nickelodeon’s upcoming comedy That Girl Lay Lay, but he didn’t stray too far from his roots, infusing the series with plenty of humor centered on family, which he considers his comedy signature.
Arnold serves as an executive producer and showrunner on the live-action Nickelodeon show that’s set to premiere on September 23. That Girl Lay Lay (13 x 24 minutes) centers around teenager Sadie, who discovers an avatar from a motivational app that comes to life and helps her learn to be more confident.
Arnold was working as a writer and supervising producer on Nickelodeon series Side Hustle when he learned that the studio was looking for someone to pitch a series starring young rapper and social media star That Girl Lay Lay. Armed with a one-sentence summary of the general direction for the show (“Weird Science meets Young Frankenstein when a teenage wiz kid creates her own best friend”), he went to work.
To create the concept, Arnold wove in his own kids’ love of their phones, the struggles that parents have as children grow up, and played on the comedy around how different the exuberant Lay Lay is from the meek protagonist Sadie.
“I wanted to balance the drama with the humor,” says Arnold. “So while the show features some fantastical elements, it is really about how vulnerable teenagers feel at that stage in their lives.”
To make sure what he was writing was funny, he posted clips from his comedy routine and content featuring his family on his Facebook page to see how people reacted to the various bits, giving him valuable insights into what audiences might find funny on the series.
Arnold also dug deep into his stand-up roots, pulling jokes from the series scripts to turn into a routine for LA comedy clubs. Preforming for an adult audience ultimately gave him a better understanding of what would resonate with families tuning into the show, he says.
A comedian who has done stand-up for 27 years, Arnold often touches on mature topics like sex, race and divorce to fuel for his routines. But from his early days performing on Def Comedy Jam, Jamie Foxx Presents Laffapoalooza and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, up to his 2020 Netflix comedy special Fat Ballerina, the core of his comedy has always revolved around families.
After a number of years on the stand-up circuit, he expanded into narrative storytelling in 2004 with the short film Because My Stand-Up Is Not Enough!! He later landed a gig writing on comedy show The Tony Rock Project, where he met producer Anthony Hill (Raven’s Home), who asked Arnold to write for Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns in 2009. Arnold has since had credits on series including House of Payne, Real Husbands of Hollywood, Bigger and Fuller House.
While That Girl Lay Lay hasn’t launched yet, Arnold is hopeful that Nickelodeon will order a second season, and he’s in conversations about additional episodes now.
In the meantime, he’s lined up an 18-city stand-up tour called “It Ain’t For the Weak,” which will culminate in a Netflix special recorded in his hometown, and he’s working with Opera’s OWN Network to create a show based on his family and social media presence. He’s also in the process of writing a romantic comedy—his dream project as a self-described sucker for sappy stories—to bring to market.
“I’m thankful I’ve been able to play in all these different lanes, and now my fans can see there are more sides to me—not just the me they see at my shows,” he says. “I’m excited for people to see [That Girl Lay Lay], and also for what’s to come.”