Donny O’Malley – Using Dark Humor to Help Veterans

I had a chance to chat with Donny O’Malley about he helps fellow vets with dark humor. He is the founder of VET Tv, a subscription based media company with a unique business model.

O’Malley discovered that his dark sense of humor was similar to what other wounded vets had. He would sit with buddy after buddy, making each other laugh like nothing else.

O’Malley retired medically from the military, and he is now “doing God’s work, and people tell me ‘don’t ever stop’.” He described the dark warrior humor, that is otherwise hidden among injured vets. “It is not well understood by others. My buddy killed himself, and my way to mourn is to take action. So I wrote a book, and that evolved eventually into VET Tv.”

The programming folds in suicide awareness and prevention, as well as humor and camaraderie. “We heal better together,” confirms O’Malley.

“Comedy is a good way to bring us together. I stopped marketing the book. I became burnt out from volunteering in the non-profit I formed, so I made a video to market the book. I took the rejected concept, shot it, and it went viral. Again and again I got positive feedback from fellow vets. It is controversial and offensive, but it is all warrior humor. The content was aimed at the hunters who were on the front line, and we did not care if others did not find it funny. As long as my buddies laughed, that was the goal.”

O’Malley knew he needed a service a la Netflix if he wanted to make the content readily available. He looked at a few other business models. He looked into branding. He started a blog post about a Kickstarter campaign. “I threw it out there, and a day later I began building a team.” Joining him were folks from his military experience, from his non-profit, from fans.

“I try to recreate the entire military experience. Hollywood content is about the military, not for the military. The VET Tv content is made for the military front line guys, not painters of the ship, or the drivers. We poke at the comedy of the administration offices. Comedy can be found in all sorts of places. The military experience is in many ways…absurd. The only way to deal with it is humor, the same for severe trauma. So much of the military is really about support, not kicking doors down.”

O’Malley uses crowd sourcing to vote on shows and ideas. Decisions are based on cost and what the audience wants, it is a constant conversation according to O’Malley. Business has grown, and he always has the next 6 months planned out. “Sketch comedy a good starting format. The military is a microcosm of the US,” asserts O’Malley.

Pleasing everyone is a recipe for failure, as O’Malley discovered. He’d rather look for a niche in the military community. He has seen, heard and understood…that has proven to be enough to get viewers to pay. O’Malley goes straight to the customer. And he can go from concept to distribution very quickly.

“Tyler Perry is an example,” explains O’Malley. “Perry is doing what others don’t…and people are willing to pay. We know exactly who we are speaking to. Our biggest show is about the infantry experience. Realism is our guide. But we recognize the line between fantasy and reality.”

Friends still in uniform have advised O’Malley that there is a sense that the military wants to shut down VET Tv. “There is knowledge that we are showing things that won’t help recruiting. The facade of recruiting efforts is hurting a vet’s efforts to assimilate back into society. Half of the folks who are recruited say their recruiter lied to them. We have worked incredibly hard to make it work, so I have no compassion for sharing passwords. I don’t want to facilitate the woe is me mentality.”

O’Malley concludes our chat with a satisfying note of confidence:

“The laughter we have provided has brought veterans out of a dark place.”

VET Tv | Official Website‎


Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.