Spotlight on Kelly Spillman

I met Kelly Spillman years ago when both of us were teaching at a for-profit college. We’ve been friends since. Curious about how improv might improve her skills in the classroom, Kelly jumped right into classes and almost immediately started performing stand up in Atlanta.

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You have a master’s in Counseling. Was there anything funny about grad school?

The main things that stand out as funny were how eccentric some of the professors were. Also, most students in my programs were slackers and never did the readings. I hope slackers make good counselors!

You have taught college courses for years. What are some of the funniest things a student has said to you?

I routinely have students claim we need to bring back spanking to solve all of society’s problems. I don’t think Panera and Target can spank employees! I had a student recently add punchlines to test questions. That is the first time a student has done that.

You have just met someone who will teach college for the first time. What’s your best advice?

Make sure you have clear policies and guidelines on your syllabus. Have high expectations for all of your students and have fun in the classroom. Show them you are passionate about your subject area.

You have traveled a lot. What’s a destination you think everyone should visit at least once.

My favorite city is London and I highly recommend everyone visit. Most of the museums are free. There is so much diversity there that you can eat any type of food. You can go see a play every night and can take public transportation everywhere. It is easy to take day trips by train to quaint British villages.

Why stand up? 

I started out as an improviser and I realized that I needed to have more opportunities to be seen performing comedy so I transitioned over to stand up.  You are on your own with stand up so that is empowering. It is thrilling to be on stage by yourself with a mic and earn the respect of a crowd.

Tell me something that recently made you laugh out loud.

I was doing a show over the weekend. I noticed that another comic was talking to a lot of women in the crowd. He was wearing those big ear phones around his neck the whole time. I talked to him after his set and he pulled the cord to the headphones out of his pocket to show me that they were not attached to anything! That cracked me up.

What is the best response to a heckler?

Unfortunately, this strongly depends on the environment. There is no one set way to handle these obnoxious people or comedy “helpers”. You need to come back at them in a funny way because if you come at them too aggressively, the audience will turn on you or the energy of the room will change.

Let’s say you are hosting a viewing party at your home.  What music is on when your guests arrive?  What food and drinks would you have?  Which TV shows, movies, excerpts would you show?

I used to run a catering department so I would probably be pretty particular about the food and drinks. Lots of colorful fruits and veggies, meats and cheeses and LOTS of alcohol. Martinis and margaritas for everyone! I would probably play awesome, cheesy 80s songs or current music.

Which comic(s), living or dead, would you most like to see perform?

Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Phyllis Diller, Gilda Radner, Elaine May, Del Close, Carol Burnett.

Name some comics, living or dead, who you don’t get.  Gallagher, Three Stooges, Tosh, Lisa Lampanelli.

What’s your dream gig?

Hosting the White House Correspondents Dinner.

What’s the best stand up advice you’ve received?

Make sure to always have fun every time you are on stage. It seems like a no-brainer but I have to remind myself this is supposed to be fun every time!

Who is ruder? A class full of undergraduates or a comedy club audience?

It’s a tie.

In terms of stand ups, actors, etc., who do you think is underrated?

I am going to list amazingly talented people who should be household names: Lizz Winstead, Rob Stapleton, John Roy, Baron Vaughn, Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza, Rebel Wilson.

You appear to be fearless. What scares you?

It is true that I am not a very fearful person. I do worry about the extent of apathy I see in some students especially since most of them want to go into healthcare! I also worry about my financial future as a single person. I have not had a raise in 6 years and it is very difficult to earn money performing comedy in Atlanta.

Any books you’d recommend?

Satiristas by Paul Provenza, On Writing by Stephen King, South of Broad by Pat Conroy, Human Stain by Phillip Roth, Lizz Free or Die by Lizz Winstead, Bossypants by Tina Fey, Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Thanks, Kelly. You can follow her on twitter @Gressivegirl. She will be the resident comic at Laughing Skull Lounge in April. Her website will be up soon–


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