Still, on stage at the Gotham Comedy Club, a space usually filled by raucous laughter, Kelly broke down in tears talking about her ouster from the LDS faith and the repercussions for herself and her family.
"It's like an execution, a spiritual death," Kelly said of Mormon excommunication. "It's very, very extreme."
For their part, Kelly's Mormon leaders have said the door always is open to her return.
"Excommunicants may later qualify for rebaptism after lengthy and full repentance," according to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, "and still later may apply for formal restoration of their original priesthood and temple blessings."
Kelly led the effort to allow LDS women to enter the all-male priesthood, but she faced a church disciplinary council and was removed from the faith's rolls in June. Top Mormon leaders declined to overturn that decision earlier this year and Kelly's husband, Neil Ransom, resigned from the Utah-based faith.
Kelly shared the stage Thursday with MSNBC's Abby Huntsman, who has also spoken out about her concerns with the LDS Church.
Huntsman, daughter of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, said that if all Mormon women were in the room for the discussion, she imagines plenty of them would feel the same but feared speaking out.
"It's a balance and it's tough, and that's why I commend Kate for what she's saying," Abby Huntsman said. "It's not easy. ... Kate has been an inspiration for me."
Kelly said she still practices the LDS faith — "I don't think Mormonism washes off," she added — but added she no longer feels bound by some "arbitrary" church rules.
She pulled aside her yellow cardigan to show her sleeveless dress. Excommunicated Mormons are told to stop wearing LDS temple garments, which devout members wear.
One of her bigger worries, she told the small Manhattan crowd, was that her exit from the church would strike fear into the Ordain Women movement, hurting its chances at making any progress.
"I was afraid they would back down, afraid it would dissipate," she said. "Much to my surprise and delight, the opposite has happened. It's galvanized the movement."
She said she knows of people who have lost their jobs and been disowned by their families for backing the equality effort for Mormon women. But, like any such push, she said, it's worth it.
Kelly said her parents, who live in Provo, no longer can attend LDS temple services, have had their mailbox smashed and been shunned by fellow Mormons for supporting her.
"Whenever you get that kind of pushback," she said, "you know you're doing the right thing."