Whether you know David A. Arnold from his years on the club circuit or from his work as a writer on Fuller House or you’re just hearing about him for the first time, his new hour It Ain’t For the Weak is a strong second Netflix special.
Arnold’s animated physical comedy elevates his jokes. When he arrives onstage, he immediately sets the mic stage toward the back so he can skip on an imaginary playground or eat bland potatoes at a Bakersfield prison. He can really set a scene, both with subtle movements and his impressions. Arnold uses his voice to the fullest—both literally and figuratively—by bringing us from a whisper to a bellow and focusing on his own personal experiences. He’s a straight-talking club comedian who’s clearly honed his craft.
You could peg Arnold as a curmudgeon; much of the start of It Ain’t For the Weak has a “back in my day” bent to it. However, instead of simply declaring how things were better when he was coming up, Arnold examines the lessons he gleaned from his various father figures (his grandfather, stepfather, and dad) and those he wants to impart as a father himself.
The grandfather bit in particular is truly something special. Arnold sits down in a chair, impersonating his hardworking grandad with artful gestures and vocal changes. He’s bathed in a spotlight on the dark stage, and handheld camerawork renders the moment all the more intimate and moving. Arnold expertly combines humor and personal connection here.
One of Arnold’s few pitfalls comes towards the end of the hour, when he talks about his deaf stepsister. As part of his closing bit, he mocks some of her mannerisms, and this choice leaves a sour taste after an otherwise hilarious, thoughtful, and well-constructed set.
In case you couldn’t tell already, Arnold’s family sits at the heart of this special. His interactions with his teenage daughters, his wife, his stepmom, and so many others are all fodder for jokes. To really drive this home, Arnold’s wife and two daughters join him on stage at the very end for the curtain call. It’s a sweet moment, reminding the audience that any of Arnold’s grumpy complaints about his daughters ultimately stem from a desire to help them be their best possible selves.
And, surprisingly, It Ain’t For the Weak doesn’t end there. The special ends with roughly 15 minutes of talking heads and videos of Arnold, his family, and fellow comedians. While it feels a bit tacked-on and certain parts are stilted, this video postscript provides compelling context to the set and Arnold’s career as a whole. It concludes with a pep talk from Arnold about how far he’s come and the work he’s had to put in to overcome addiction and make his way in the ruthless world of entertainment. The monologue can feel a bit cheesy—and it probably intentionally is—but it’s also incredibly sincere. It Ain’t For the Weak initially comes across as one of those abrasive comedy special titles on Netflix warning you that edgelord content is coming, like Disgraceful by Tom Segura, or Intolerant by Jim Jeffries, or I’m Sorry You Feel That Way by Bill Burr, etc., etc. In truth, though, the title encapsulates his resilience both as a comedian and a human being. Arnold’s latest hour proves deeply personal and laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.