MAN IN BLACK: Q&A W/ Comedian David A. Arnold



HenryPhawkerPortrait-1BY HENRY SAVAGE David A. Arnold is the funniest guy you never saw. He’s been behind the scenes of some of America’s favorite comedy shows and is now bringing his comedic genius to the national stage with a stand up tour that stops at Punch Line Philly from January 3rd to the 5th. Originally from Cleveland, Arnold worked his way up the ranks of LA’s comedy scene in the early 2000s with performances at Mitzi Shore’s Comedy Store and his first recording, …Cause I Have Work in the Morning!!!. He was eventually discovered by the head writers at Tyler Perry’s studio where he would go on to write for television shows like Meet the Browns and House of Payne. Arnold now writes and produces for Fuller House, Netflix’s reboot of the 80s sitcom Full House. In between performing and creating television, Arnold has attracted hundreds of thousands of views on his social media, where he rants about day-to-day life and produces sketches with his wife and kids.

PHAWKER: What was it like getting bit by the comedy bug so to speak. And where did you come up? And how did you find your comedic voice?

DAVID A. ARNOLD: I probably found my comedic voice from my grandfather. My grandfather was very funny. He is the funniest dude I know. It was always delivered through gritted teeth and aggravation, I think I associated those two things with being funny. All my life, coming up in that atmosphere, I think I learned my comedy, my timing from that. That was the place that I first started realizing, “Oh, this is funny.” I love making people laugh. I wasn’t the class clown. I didn’t try to be funny. I would just be David, and David naturally came off funny to people. Which I didn’t understand. In my mind, I was just being me, which was a version of what I thought my grandfather was. When I was a kid, I thought Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, in that red suit, I saw how much he made my mother and my aunt laugh and it was at that moment that I went, “Oh, I like seeing people laughing.” Especially if it was people I only see serious all the time. All they were doing was telling what you could do, what you couldn’t do, but to see them reduced to laughter was something that made me go, “Oh, I want to do this for people.” That’s where the bug happened. That’s where I first started going there’s something here, I like this.

PHAWKER: How did you originally get on to open mics and being like, “Alright, I’m gonna do this professionally?”

DAVID A. ARNOLD A dare. I was in the military and I’d always been talking about wanting or being able to be a stand up. Then a comedy competition came to this pizza shop outside my military base where I was stationed in the Navy, in Pax River, Maryland. My friends were like, “You always talking trash, you think you’re so funny, yada yada yada. There’s a comedy competition, you should do it.”

I went out there and did it, and I won. I ended up winning like 4 weekends in a row, and the owner of the pizza spot said, “Nobody else will come do the competition because you keep winning, so do you want to do a night of comedy, just you?” Next thing you know I was on stage doing 20 minutes for all my friends in the military base because it was packed. That was the beginning. Six months later, a professional USO comics on duty tour came through our base to perform. My mom was in town and I convinced the guy, who was the promoter, to let me open up because I had won all the local comedy competitions. He was hesitant, but he let me do it. I went up and did five minutes and I killed. On that stage, he invited me to go open up for those guys on five other military bases in the surrounding area. That was my first professional part. I was with professional comedians and that was it. From that day on, there was no doubt in my mind, that I was going to keep doing stand up.

PHAWKER: What are some of the more impactful moments of your career so far?

DAVID A. ARNOLD: I remember coming to LA with 12 minutes of stand up in my pocket and going and showcasing at the Comedy Store, with Mitzi Shore. I got picked up as a paid regular at the Comedy Store my first showcase ever. Which had not been done. Nobody had ever been picked up and put into the main room, as a main room comedian. The Comedy Store has three rooms. The main room, the belly room and the original room. Most of the time you have to work your way up. You start in the Belly Room, then get into the Original Room, and then you work up to the main room which is the big show, with the big stars. I got picked up from showcase straight to the main room and that had not been done since Eddie Griffin 10 years before me. I had no idea that it was even a thing. So for a long time everybody was looking at me and going, “Who’s this kid Mitzi put right into the main room?” That was an impactful moment for me.

I remember getting my first deal to do my first stand up special which was for a company called Uproar Entertainment Records because they were doing comedy special DVDs in the early 2000s. I remember I saw some comedians were getting DVDs. I thought who’s this guy giving all these comedians specials? They told me his name was David Drozen and he’s very particular. I found David Drozen, I went to the comedy club I knew he hung out at to watch comedians and I told him, “I want you to come see me perform because I want to do a special.” He’s like, “You know what, dude? I only do the best.” he had all these comedians that were really doing well and I wanted to join this group. He was like, “I’m very particular. I’m gonna be here next week, I’ll get you on the list, and I’ll give you 10 minutes to see what you got.”

I went up and did my set, and I fucking murdered. I remember coming off stage, and he started walking towards me in the middle of the room, and the room was in a frenzy. He walks up to me and he goes, “I want to record you.” I said, “Well, I gotta be honest with you. I’m very particular about letting people record me.” We had the biggest laugh and that’s when I did my first stand up recording. It was called, “…Cause I Gotta Go To Work in the Morning!!!” They play it on Sirius, they got it on my Pandora station.

Another big moment for me was when I started writing television. I got a call from a friend of mine, I had been doing these videos on Facebook called, “Life with Dave.” Facebook just started in 2008 and I started to get a lot of traction very quickly and a friend of mine was the head writer at Tyler Perry’s studio. He was writing this TV show called Meet The Browns. The execs asked if he was interested in another writer for the show. He said he wanted this guy named David Arnold. We met during a show called the Tony Rock Project.

They asked, “Who’s David Arnold?” He said, “Go on Facebook and look at his videos.” They went on Facebook and saw my videos. They were like dude we gotta have you down here. I went down there and ended up writing for three years. I wrote two seasons of Meet the Browns and two season of House of Payne. That started me in writing. That led to many other TV shows like Real Husbands of Hollywood for Kevin Hart, Partners with Kelsey Grammer and Martin Lawrence on Fox, Zoe Ever After with Brandy on BET. Now I am a producer and writer on the TV show called Fuller House which is on Netflix. Our new season just started streaming last week. We were nominated for an Emmy last year. So that’s how I started my journey of writing. I’m leaving here right now, going to have a meeting with Anthony Anderson because he’s got an animated show that they want me to write.

As a comedian you want people to come see you perform. So I’m in that that stage of my life now where I need people to know that it’s me. I didn’t come here to write. I love writing, but I didn’t come here to just be behind the camera and write for other people. I want to do my own things. I recorded my last stand up special in Cleveland on October 25, which will be released at the top of next year. Now I’m traveling the country man. I decided to use Instagram and social media as a way to keep my voice and my face out there. I started doing that about five months ago. In five months, I picked up 75,000 followers on Instagram and I picked up 300,000 on Facebook. That’s just from going and putting up these little video rants and sketches that I do with my wife and my kids and I’m basically letting people know, “All of the comedy and all of the stuff that I’ve been writing and doing for other people I just started doing for myself.” I feel the impact of social media and I’m using it to build a brand and let people know, “Hey I’m one of the funniest guys you’ve never heard of and I’ve been making you laugh for a long time and you never knew it.

PHAWKER: One thing I’ve noticed is that comedy doesn’t ever seem to stop with you. Even when you aren’t performing or writing for TV. You’re producing these hilarious segments on IG and Facebook with your family. What’s it like cracking jokes with your wife and kids and even just doing comedy bits at home?

DAVID A. ARNOLD: I’m really just capturing moments, and because I’m a writer and comedian I know how to do it structurally. I’m just turning the camera on and these people are being who they really are. Once in a while, I’ll have them say something again when it’s funny, and put the camera on them. It’s been great being able to do this with them. My wife is also an entertainer. My wife was a professional dancer. She was a New York Radio City Rockette. She danced with Jimmy Buffett for five years, she danced on Broadway, and so many other people. She hosted a TV show called Made in Hollywood on ABC. So she’s very much into this business. My daughter Anna-Grace just start her own YouTube channel. We’re familiar with what’s going on, so it’s a lot of fun. You can do it with the people that you know and it comes from a real place. That’s what makes it funny. Those are the things that I bring to the stage. I’m starting to get stopped by kids in airports, take pictures. My daughter is trying to figure out why her friends follow me on Instagram and think I’m so funny. I think it is because I remind people about their father. It’s really cool man. The best comedy comes from a real place.

PHAWKER: What moments in life inspire you for writing shows like Fuller House or even bringing it to stage with stand up?

DAVID A. ARNOLD: It’s the real moments in life, like I said. Where people can walk away from something, having learned something. When I have to have hard conversations with my daughter, I think what makes me different from most parents is that I have to get the comedy in. I know how to disarm the 13 year-old attitude by making her laugh. When those moments in life workout, you can bring those stories to the writers room and you write something everybody understands. When you’re writing from truth you don’t have to make up stuff. It’s great comedy when it’s organic. Then as a comedian I get on stage and tell these stories, so when I get to the writers room and I pitch them for a TV show or something, I know they work because I’ve been doing it already on stage.

PHAWKER: What comedians, TV series or movies are you watching right now that you think hit that hilarious mark?

DAVID A. ARNOLD: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld is one of my favorite shows. Comedians talking about comedy, I can do that all day. It reminds me of my stand up class. I teach a stand up class as well, which I’ve been doing on and off for 10 years. It’s the largest stand up comedy class in the country and it’s like watching that. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee really inspired my creative flow. The other one is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel right now on Amazon. I think that’s a very funny show. Atlanta is a great show. Atlanta, you know, gets me going. Those are the three things that jump off the top of my head right off the bat, you know, when you’re writing and creating television, you don’t get a lot of down time. So when I do, those are things I like to watch.

PHAWKER: What advice do you have for comedians that are just starting out?

DAVID A. ARNOLD: I can’t teach you to be funny. Nobody can teach you that. Funny is not taught. Funny is an instinct, you got it or you don’t. The only thing I tell people and I give them in that class, is the work ethic, and I show them what it takes to build a comedy career. Teaching comedy is like teaching football. I can teach you the plays. The quarterback will throw the ball, but to make the move to get open, to catch the ball, to run it down to the endzone and all that stuff…nobody can teach you. The only thing I can teach you are the plays. That’s the only thing I can do with comedians. A lot of people think they funny, but they not. Being funny, and being a comedian are two different things. Comedy is a lifestyle. Being a comedian is the desire to get on stage and tell a story. It may not work but it doesn’t bother you. It inspires you. It’s so funny to be two different people, right? When I step on stage, I become who I am supposed to be. It’s because I love the craft and the process of it so much, I can talk comedy all day long.

That’s the thing I try to teach people, and I’ve had some very successful people come out of the classes. James Davis who has his own special coming up on Comedy Central. Tony Baker, who is traveling the country, did Last Comic Standing. Jackie Fabulous. That’s why people leave my class and go on to do well.

PHAWKER: And kind of what you were saying before, I remember in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld said, “The first tier of comedy, you can make your friends laugh, the second tier, you can make strangers laugh, the third tier, you can start getting paid to make strangers laugh.” Finally Jerry at the end is like, “The final tier, where I’m at, is you’re so funny that you make other people talk like you.”

DAVID A. ARNOLD: Yes! That’s it. Now that takes me back, I remember you asked about the moments in my career. One of the moments that I always look forward to, and one of the moments that I knew that I was getting somewhere is when people start to take on your voice, when people hear your voice. What I would start to get and I was starting to see, on Instagram or Facebook posts and comments, people would comment something and put “in my David Arnold voice,” after it. That was a moment that I remember thinking, “Oh, I’ve become an influence to some people.” So it’s funny that Jerry said that because that is a moment that I will remember clearly. Wanting to influence people.

PHAWKER: So you’re performing at Punch Line Philly from January 3rd through the 5th. And I wanted to know, how is your experience with Philadelphia been like throughout your career?

DAVID A. ARNOLD: The last time I was in Philadelphia, I can’t remember what it was, but I was hosting this show. It wasn’t a stand up club or crowd since I was warming up the show. So I couldn’t be too much, right? I still have fun. Every time I go to Philadelphia I see friends. I have this friend Turae Gordon, who is a funny comedian that lives in Philly. My friend Kevin Hart is from Philly. So I know a lot of comics there and every time I go to perform, it’s always been fantastic. The best part about coming to a city like Philadelphia, or any city, is the fact that a lot of these people don’t know me. They don’t know what to expect. That’s my favorite part, to go into a place where people have little to no expectation and they walk away going, “I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this guy.” That’s my favorite part. Every single city that I go to, that’s 100% the response when it’s over. I’m looking forward to that.

PHAWKER: What kind of topics do you think you’ll bring to stage throughout this tour?

DAVID A. ARNOLD: Family. Relationships. Kids. I love to talk about the male/female relationship. Topical stuff. I don’t do a lot of current events. I do a lot of stories about my life and where I came from. My childhood. I like to touch on topics where people can see we’re a lot more alike than we are different. Those are the things that I talk about. I can find comedy in everyday life. We got a new refrigerator. It’s a smart refrigerator. I have found 10 minutes on this smart refrigerator, because I think it’s out of control. The stuff that I am required to do, to get a glass of orange juice out of my refrigerator is ridiculous. So I can take anything and find comedy in it. That is the part that I’m looking forward to. Everyday life, relationships, family, marriage, dating. We’re going to talk about all of it, and it is going to be fantastic.