The Dallas Comedian Shares Us Some Behind-The-Scenes Insights To Her Recent Appearance On Kevin Hart’s Comedy Central Show, Hart Of The City.
When I was first offered the opportunity to take over this column, I was honestly a little bit drunk and very overwhelmed. Hey, it’s not every day you’re offered a gig while attending your local emo night!
Still, I accepted — and I knew I had to start strong. For one thing, I didn’t want to let down my longtime comedy pal Alex Gaskin, the former steward of “Humor Us,” Central Track’s series on the ongoings of the local comedy scene.
KeLanna Spiller knows something about starting strong. The Dallas comedian has the act to prove it, too. She’s got a powerful stage presence, a bevy of well-built jokes and — I’d even be willing to bet both of my two free drink tickets on this — she could probably take any area comic in an arm-wrestling competition.
Fresh off her first and definitely not last appearance on Comedy Central, I recent met up with Spiller in the green room of the famous Arlington Improv to talk about her recent gains (another strong-person joke!).
Specifically, we discussed what it’s been like for her to recently gain all kinds of attention from comedy super nerds, club owners and, oh yeah, Kevin Hart.
(Yes, that Kevin Hart!)
Here at the Arlington Improv about five years ago… I’m pretty sure this is where we first met, right?
It is! Because this is where I first started.
This is where we both started.
Yeah. It’s where I first started doing open mics, about a year before that.
This the first club you opened up for someone in too, right?
Yeah. For John Witherspoon.
I know you do weekends at clubs all the time now, but tell me about your first weekend ever. What was that like?
It was scary as hell! That’s the first time I had to see if, like, I actually had enough time. It’s like 20 minutes!
For the reader who hasn’t seen your act, what would you say your voice is? Who is Kelanna Spiller?
I am a very personable comic. I don’t talk a lot about politics. Sometimes I talk about current events — just as, like, a quick hit when I first get started. But, for the most part, I talk about my family, the misconceptions I get from people for being a lesbian and that kind of stuff.
You’re still clearly addressing social issues, though. Are there maybe more political undertones in your act than you even realize?
That’s true — so true. But, see, I don’t look at it that way. I’m just talking about my own experiences.
It’s just your life.
Yeah, it’s just my life. I guess, from the outside looking in, there could be some political or social undertones or whatever. But I’m just talking about my life experiences — stuff from even before I started comedy. Like with how I would get approached by men, and how men are disrespectful. How same-sex relationships are just over-sexualized. And it’s like, “Dude, you don’t even know nothing about me!” So I just looked at it like, “Let me just get the word out.” Let me get people some insight on what being a lesbian is, who I am.
I specifically remember the first time I saw you perform. You talked about a guy who is hitting on you and appears from behind the cloud of smoke. You still do that bit — and it’s crazy to have seen that act progress. It’s like you just have a whole different level of energy up there these days.
I love physical comedy. A lot of people — a lot of black comics — look at it as “cooning” but I don’t look at it like that.
I don’t consider you just a physical comic, though. You kind of do it all up there.
I just know that I want it to be an experience. Like, when I’m on stage, I want people to be just so engaged with what I’m talking about that they sort of just get lost in it. And then once I’m off stage it’s just like “Whoo! I was in sort of a trance just now! What was that?!?!?” I want people to see my act, but not me. I want them to see the person I’m talking about — like they’re watching a movie or something.
Speaking of movies: You were recently on Hart of the City, Kevin Hart’s stand-up show on Comedy Central.
Yeah! Season three.
Didn’t you qualify for the show here at the Arlington Improv?
So, [the show] contacted [Dallas comedian] Alfred Kainga, who was on season one. They reached out to him like, “Hey, we are coming through Dallas for Hart of the City season three. We need about 21 comics to choose from. We trust you, we trust your opinion. Send us some names.” So he hit up people he had worked with — people he thinks are funny, I guess. Then he sent them the names, and we got an audition date. I auditioned in April of 2018. I think I got the call like a month and a half after that.
What was that like? The call.
I was at my full-time job, at my desk. It wasn’t a surprise because Alfred… I guess he was overzealous. He messaged me on Facebook and was like, “Hey. What’s your phone number?” I gave him my phone number and he was like, “OK, stay by the phone, and if you see a Los Angeles number, answer it.” And I was like, “Oh god, it’s happening.” I started getting nervous. My heart started beating fast.
How long did it take for them to call you post-Alfred?
Maybe 10 minutes? Just the longest 10 minutes, man. The longest 10 minutes of my life.
What is that phone call like?
He was like, “Hey, can I speak to Kelanna?” I was like, “This is she.” He then let me know, “I am of the producers on Hart of the City, season three. Are you sitting down?” [Laughs.] I was like, “Y’know what? Let me go into the conference room because I want to hear every word that you have to say.” So I literally left my desk and went into a conference room. And he was like. “Uhhh, OK Are you ready?” I said, “Yeah I’m sitting down now.” He was like “Congratulations, you’ve been chosen to represent Dallas on season three of Hart of the City!” Then — honestly — I just started crying. My supervisor was in the room with me because after I got the message from Alfred, I looked at her like, “Oh my god, I think I got it. I think I got it.”
How was the actual show is structured? How it is presented publicly versus how it’s filmed?
So, we actually recorded the sets first — right here in Dallas, at The Black Academy of Arts and Letters. This was back in June 2018. [Makeup and wardrobe] was like a two day thing. The first day, they wanted you to bring your clothes by so they could press it, make sure you don’t have any logos or anything like that. It has to be blank stuff. And no jewelry because they don’t want the shine. They wanted it to be all dark-colored clothing, no white. So, we had to get our wardrobe approved of the day before. Then, the day of, we’re there from noon until seven.
Wow, seven hours? How was the food spread?
It was a lot of fruit — but I like fruit! They also had sandwiches. Salads.
And finger sandwiches like I am imagining?
Yeah, they had those! With the toothpick in them.
When was the actual interview with Kevin done?
A separate day of filming — like months apart. We shot the stand-up portion in June, then we went to L.A. for the interviews in August.
Kevin Hart is a whole other level of superstar. I can’t imagine the massive aurora he gives off in person.
The whole thing was great. First of all, they flew us in a day before we even had to record. Then they gave us a per diem. We all stayed in this plush hotel in Burbank, California. Man, I’m telling you! [Laughs] Then you have $200 cash as soon as you walk into the hotel. And we was only there for, like, three days. I was just like, “Mannnn, so what do we do with this money?” They were like, “This is yours, so you do whatever you want to do.” I said, “Nah, I’m gonna spend $100 here, then I’m gonna take $100 back to Dallas with me.” I had my own room. I didn’t have to share with nobody. It was a beautiful experience, man. After we got to the hotel, the day before, we all just hung out, and everyone went out to eat. We all went up at The Dime Bar — it’s a popular show out there and we all went up there. Oh, and I got to see Dave Chappelle later that night at the Comedy Store. We were hanging out at the Comedy Store, just chilling, hanging out. But it was real late, so I took an Uber back to Burbank when suddenly my homeboy called me and was like, “Man. Get back up here. Chappelle just walked in. He’s about to do some time!” So I called another one of the comedians — Ty Davis from Baltimore — and was like, “Bitch, Dave Chappelle just walked into the Comedy Store. Do you wanna get an Uber back there with me?” Keep in mind: This is a 30-minute drive, and we had just made it to the hotel. Just then. So we called an Uber and went 30 minutes back to Hollywood, and we caught his whole set. He did like an hour and a half. It was really a beautiful thing, man. We sat there and watched him — and, then, get this. T.I. was in the building! Shooting the next day started at like five or six in the morning. That’s when we did our interviews.
Are you taller than Kevin Hart?
We’re the same height.
How tall are you two?
5’3. Yup, the same damn height. I’m wider but.. [Laughs.]
Do you still play football? The women’s league?
Nah, ’cause I wanted to focus more on comedy. It was getting to the point where I was choosing football over comedy. We would have games on Saturdays and a club would call me asking to do a weekend, I would commit to my games, but then I got to a point where I was like, “Man, this shit’s not paying me.”
Like, you’ve won championships in football, though. Right?
Yeah. Like, I have three rings. What am I trying to prove?
Comedy has clearly taken you to a lot of places. But you stay in the Dallas scene. What do you see in this scene that you don’t see elsewhere?
I really enjoy the comedians I get to experience comedy with here. I don’t talk to too many people, but the people I do talk to, it’s never a feeling of them being “better” than me or really anythinglike that. They never make you feel out of place here. It’s not cliquey. And I like the time — like, you can go to a mic and do time, then go somewhere else.
Got a worst gig ever that you can tell me about?
Oh, man. I did a private birthday party. The guy was turning 40-something. It was at an event center. They rented out a room. Didn’t tell me there would be kids there. When they hit me up about it, they were like, “Can you come and do 20 minutes or so?” I was like, “OK, I can bring an opener. He can do 10 and I can do 20, and we can just give y’all a full show.” She was like, “Yeah that’s cool. We can do that.” And, y’now, she paid me or whatever in advance, and as soon as I walk in, there are women, like, juggling flames.
Oh, shit. You had to follow a circus act.
Yes. I had to follow that shit! I was like, “Oh my gosh.” It was horrible. Then [my opener] goes up — and he’s just bombing left and right. And I got nervous as fuck. I was like, “Damn, he’s bombing — so I know it’s about to be some trouble for me.” When I talked to her earlier that day, it was because she was asking if I needed anything before the show. I was like, “No. As long as you have a microphone and some speakers, I’m good.” Then she followed it with: “That’s right. I forgot to tell you: There will be kids tonight.” It didn’t go well.
[Both sigh in comedic unison.]
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Joey Johnson is a comic based out of the Dallas/ Fort Worth metroplex. In 2016, he won “Best Comedian” at the Denton Arts and Music Awards. In 2017, he did not win “Best Comedian” at the Denton Arts and Music Awards. He has opened for prominent names such as Godfrey, Brian Posehn, Chris Porter and the guy who took Sarah Silverman’s virginity.