KeLanna Spiller Talks Balancing Her Life As An Emerging Stand-Up Comedian With Her Time As A Member Of Women’s Football Alliance’s Dallas Elite.
KeLanna Spiller’s stand-up balances her playful, low-key energy against material that blends raunch and honesty.
In a relatively short time, Spiller has raised her profile in Dallas-Fort Worth comedy scene by making the most of opportunities presented to her at the Improv, where she recently headlined one of their new Wednesday night shows. Her rise is more impressive when you factor in that she has to find time for both comedy and her physically demanding involvement in the Women’s Football Alliance.
So while football is all about rules and order, how does Spiller manage in the bedlam that is the entertainment world?
Earlier this week, she and I discussed her recent accomplishments, how she’s looking to learn about the business of comedy while keeping a tight focus on building her act and how she’s seeing more opportunities seep into Dallas.
We were just talking before the interview about your comedy career being in flux lately because of your football season. Can we dive into that a little bit? Can you tell me about the league you’re in?
It’s the WFA – Women’s Football Alliance. It has, like, 60-something teams from all around the United States. I play for the Dallas Elite, I’ve been playing with them for three years. Each year, we’ve been to the championship game. The last two years, we lost by one or two points. This year, we’re looking to close it out, and finally be champions.
So since you’ve been doing comedy, you’ve had dueling passions with comedy and football.
Yeah, I’ve been doing comedy around three and a half years – four in December. Ever since I’ve been doing comedy, I’ve been playing football too, so I’ve been trying to balance the two. I’ve done a good job but not too good. When you commit to something – at least, when I commit to something – I want to commit to it 100 percent. When it comes to football, it takes up a lot of time. Watching film on your downtime, going to practice Tuesdays and Thursdays. And Tuesdays and Thursdays, well at least Tuesdays, that’s one of the best nights for an open mic. It’s good to go to a mic when there’s no audience, just to get onstage, but I like the instant feedback. I can perform in the mirror at home, if I’m going to go perform in a room full of comics. So it’s just a lot of writing here and there, where I can.
When you travel to play football games are you able to sneak away and check out comedy in other scenes?
No, because football takes up a lot of time. Even if we travel and go somewhere, we have to be at the football field around 4 o’clock, but the game doesn’t start until 7, because you’ve got to warm up, do all this kind of stuff. After the game, we’re either in Austin – we don’t travel too far, but at the end of the season, it’s in Texas, so it’s Austin or Houston where we go play. And right after the game we come right home. So I really just go for football and just go back home.
After this year, you’ll be concentrating on comedy. You’ve been doing some cool things lately – one of the things I wanted to ask you about was your show at the Improv recently. Was yours the first of their new Wednesday night shows?
It wasn’t the first one, I think it was the third or fourth. I think Thomas Nichols did the first one, but mine was like the fourth. But that was a fun night – it was one of the best nights of my life so far.
I’ll pull back to explain – you headlined the show and you got to pick the people who performed with you.
I got to pick the people. I picked…some of the people, when I first started comedy, the people I picked, De De T, Angelia [Walker], Fonzo [Crow]…I wanted to get CJ [Starr] and Q [Coleman], but they already had nights, so it went to other people. But it was kind of, I guess it was paying them back, showing my respects to people who helped me get on shows when I first started. I was just kind of returning the favor. These are the people who helped me when I started, let me help them.
How was it being the headliner and being the person in charge?
It was fun. I’m not gonna lie, leading up to the show it was nerve-racking, it was scary as hell. I don’t know why, you just have so many thoughts, you’re like, “Are people gonna buy tickets? How many people are going to show?” You just want it to be perfect, especially for your first time. “Am I gonna keep pace of my set? Am I gonna run out of material, am I gonna go too fast because I’m nervous or excited?” I had all these thoughts leading up to the show, but when I finally got there, it was like, “Oh, this is just like open mic.” [Laughs.] I’ve just got to do 30 minutes instead of three. I had fun though.
It wasn’t your first time working at the Improv.
No, I worked with John Witherspoon last December. I did that, and then a show with Gary With Da Tea. The Improv’s shown me a lot of love.
Do you prefer the atmosphere in a bar show or are you more of a club comic?
I’m more for the clubs. I like comedy clubs, because people go in expecting comedy. Bar shows are cool just to get some stage time, but it’s kind of hard to get people’s attention when they’re there to drink and shoot pool. Like, “Alright everyone, let’s turn the music down, it’s time to listen to some comedy.” You’re like, damn, I was just starting to eat a sandwich, playing pool, now you want me to listen to someone talk?
How would you say your material has changed over time?
It really hasn’t changed. I want to get more personable. I hit the surface stuff, I don’t – not yet, but I’m working towards…the things I’m really passionate or emotional about, or the things I have a strong opinion about, I don’t really talk about. I haven’t learned to deliver them onstage yet.
Is it a matter of just making it funny or is it more about getting comfortable tackling these subjects?
A matter of making it funny. I think it’s good stuff, but it’s a matter of where’s the punchline, where’s the funny. It’s just an opinion. It’s a matter of how can I make it funny.
Are there any particular issues you’re trying to bring to the stage at the moment?
I’m really not a political person, but I do want to throw out my opinions on social injustice, stuff like that. The current state of the United States with Trump in office, but I don’t want to bring the mood down, I guess. Sometimes you can change the mood and there’s no coming back from that. When the energy shifts in the room. But I do want to get to that point.
I guess that is the flip-side of club crowds, they come in wanting to have fun, they don’t necessarily want to dig their heels in on tougher subjects.
Right. I’m just trying to find the funny in it, but I just haven’t yet. I guess I’m too emotional or passionate about it, so it probably sounds like I’m preaching about it if I do talk about it. Let me just not touch that shit at all. [Laughs.] Let’s just stick to my in-house issues.
How do you approach writing? Do you sit down with a notebook, carve out time? Or are you more spontaneous?
I just jot down shit that I think is funny throughout the day. If somebody says something that’s funny or if I have a flashback to something funny that happened to me, I try to write it down. If I do have some spare time I try to elaborate on it, actually write it out. But I pretty much write out the premises, the punchline I just try to flow it out onstage, see where it goes. I have an idea of what I want the punch to be, but sometimes you just have to try, freestyle it and see what happens.
That’s what’s nice about open mics, you can go up without a plan-
Wing that shit. For real. [Laughs.]
I’ve looked audiences in the eye and said, “Hey, you didn’t pay for this.”
Right! [Laughs.] You get what you pay for, take these free jokes and chill.
You’re starting to get bigger opportunities, do you feel like you’re at a point where it starts to feel more like a job?
It was starting to get to that point, until I had to, like I said, focus on other shit. But I think that’s where I’m headed. Writing comedy, writing skits, writing stand-up. Just create funny content, regardless of what it is. Whether it be on social media or onstage. Just something different.
Any projects we can talk about? Podcasts, sketches online?
I don’t have any podcasts, but I have some characters that I write out. I have this character, her name’s Shondra, she works at a call center.
So it’s experimenting with different ideas?
Yeah. Just experimenting with different ideas. That [Shondra] got some traction, but like I said… even sometimes, I’m just lazy and don’t feel like fuckin’ doing it. Like, I finally got some downtime? Let me play Battlefield real quick. [Laughs.] Shondra can wait, I’ve gotta beat this team on NBA 2K.
Is Shondra online?
Yeah, there’s clips on Facebook and YouTube. I got some traction on Facebook, but that’s about it. I’ve got a few people who like the character, and always ask me when I’m gonna do another video. This shirt [the one Spiller was wearing during the interview, which reads #THAAET] is something she says all the time, people have been buying these. But that’s pretty much it.
So you have the merchandise. Does that help grow things?
It does, it does. It helps. I haven’t sold any in a show yet, because I haven’t put her in my act. People ain’t gonna know what the hell I’m talking about. So it’s really just online. People see the video. It’s the catchphrase. People be tagging me in this shit – #THAEET – all of that. Every other day I have somebody tag me in that. I think it’s cool for online.
You’re gonna be concentrating full-time on comedy soon, is there any big particular goal you’re pursuing now that you have more time?
My goal is to get a full solid hour of material. That’s my first goal. I have thirty minutes, but I don’t think it’s a strong thirty minutes, so that’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t know what happened when I first started, but the jokes were coming to me back to back to back. But now I write something, like, “Uh…I’ll wait and see.” Now I’ll perform it two times, and if it doesn’t go well, fuck it.
I know what you mean. I feel like there’s just this thing where once you start, you have all of these ideas built up, just tumbling out. But then you run out of that initial reserve and you have to build stuff from scratch.
Exactly and that’s where I’m at now, just trying to build another set. Trying to come up with some different material, some new stuff.
Have you had many opportunities to travel much for comedy?
No, not yet. I…where did I go? I had a show in Louisiana one time, I had a show in Atlanta. I haven’t had many out of town shows.
I thought I saw something on your website where you were performing in LA?
I went to the Comics Rock convention, I had a show in LA. The Comics Rock convention, it was like a four-day convention, just different workshops on how to become a better writer, sharpen up your writing skills, negotiate a contract. Stuff like that.
So the business side of comedy as much as the comedy side of comedy?
Yeah. And along with that, you got a showcase night, and I got to perform at Flapper’s.
How was that?
That was nice. I was thinking, y’know, man, are they gonna mess with…because, y’know, I have lesbian jokes, stuff like that-
Wait, you left Texas for California and then you got nervous talking about lesbian jokes?
Yeah! [Laughs.] I perform them so much here, it’s like, oh, they’ll mess with it here in Texas. I know California is more liberal, more open to certain shit, but still. You still have it in the back of your mind as a comic, like, “Damn, are they gonna be cool with this coming from me?” Y’know, because my act-outs are sometimes…they can get a little nasty. Sometimes I can get nasty. [Laughs.]
Did it take you some time to get comfortable talking about those issues here?
Nuh-uh. I think like every comic, it takes some time to build your confidence and shit like that. You perform a few times, of course you’re nervous. I’m nervous before every show, doesn’t matter what kind of show, I’m always nervous…I lost track of the question. [Laughs.] What were you asking me?
Just if it took you time to get comfortable telling jokes about sexuality.
Nuh-uh, not at all.
Not until you went to California.
Not until California. [Laughs.] I’d never performed in California. They make it seem like LA and New York, they’re…y’know, these are the places everybody’s trying to go. You have these expectations like, shit, am I gonna live up to this? But I did a good job.
At the workshop, learning about the business side of comedy, was there anything that took you by surprise?
They had a workshop about getting federal funding, like getting grants and stuff. If you were to open a non-profit, you can get a tax ID number for yourself as a comedian. I didn’t know you could get grant money, just from different companies, stuff like that, just to fund your ideas, something you want to do. That portion of it was like, “Damn, I didn’t know we could just steal money like that.” [Laughs.] Not necessarily “steal” money, but you get what I’m saying.
What are your thoughts on the Dallas comedy scene?
The Dallas comedy scene is poppin’, man, it is. You have comics getting on – getting to work with Kevin Hart, some of these national headliners. It gives you… I can’t say hope, but it just shows you if you stay the course, you’ll get your opportunity, regardless of it being six years down the line…some people have been doing it eight, nine years in Dallas and they’re finally starting to get opportunities. But I like the Dallas comedy scene, there’s a lot of creative comics, man, especially Dez. Dez O’Neal and De De T are two of my favorite comics.
So you’re seeing more nationally touring comics coming through?
Yeah. Even if it’s in Killeen, these other cities. Dallas comics are traveling to other cities to perform. I just think it’s cool, man. I think everybody – I guess they try to stay positive, I don’t try to get in no beefs, nothing like that. Of course, it does happen sometimes. [Laughs.] But I like the Dallas comedy scene.