n December 6th, I sent Donny O’Malley - the mind and driving force behind VetTV - a message congratulating him on the success of their Kickstarter campaign and asking if he would give us an interview. On January 10th, 2017, the following message exchange took place between us:
Donny O’Malley: RAHHHHHHHHH
: Fuck yeah
: I can chat on my way home!
There was something about the standard, former-lieutenant, all-caps “Rah” and the fact that he asked and answered his own questions that led me to think that I was in for a fascinating interview. I told my wife she’d be going to sleep alone -- Donny is in San Diego, 3 hours behind us. She was surprisingly supportive. Do you know what you’re going to ask him? Oh shit, that’s right, interviewers ask questions. I dove into a Donny O’Malley crash course on the internet and began drafting some.
The interview was hilarious. He was surprisingly and refreshingly candid. The man must not sleep much. Here’s our conversation:
RTB: First things first, who is Donny O’Malley - Where are you from? What made you want to be a Marine? Give us your elevator pitch.
Donny O’Malley: I was born Daniel Peter Maher, but almost everyone calls me Donny now. I go by Donny. I’m the son of Irish immigrants who moved to New York, I was born in Queens. My father was a Marine infantry officer, got out and went to school, and later joined the Navy as a doctor. So I grew up around the military. I spent my summers at Camp Lejeune from the age of 8 to like 13. When I was maybe 6 or 7 years old I saw Platoon, and, you know, everyone died, and I knew right then that I wanted to be a Marine. But I didn’t join right away, right after high school or anything. I went to San Diego State University, I was a frat boy, spent 5 years there and graduated. Then I spent a summer knocking off bucket-list items - drinking, partying, drugs, everything - and then went to winter OCS and became an officer in the Marine Corps.
RTB: So you were pretty much living the young enlisted lifestyle long before you joined?
DO: Definitely. By the time I got to the infantry, I had already done or seen everything that they had, outside of combat, so there was nothing really new or surprising to me when I showed up. And that’s maybe one of the reasons for my success, that I was able to connect to the enlisted guys in 2/5 because I was pretty much still a child then, and I still am today.
RTB: (Laughing) That sounds familiar.
DO: Dude, as an adolescent, I was a complete moron. And I had grown up most of my life being really shy. But then at some point the switch flipped and I became the complete opposite and turned into a real trouble maker. I had my own platoon of guys in high school literally following me around, they just thought I was cool I guess, I don’t know. We would just run around and do stupid things. That ultimately culminated in me getting a ridiculous gang tattoo. Which I am definitely getting removed.
RTB: (Laughing) Wait, wait, wait. A gang tattoo?
DO: Yeah. Stupid. I’m telling you, I was a moron when I was younger.
RTB: So would you say that your experience in the Marine Corps has had an overall positive impact on your life to this point?
DO: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. The most incredible experience of my life. Definitely the most influential. I always knew I was meant to be a Marine, and that I was gonna be a good officer - except for the shy years, you know. Once I broke out of that and came back to being me, I had no doubt that I was going to take care of my Marines and treat them like they were my little brothers. I craved the challenge of leadership. I was the president of our fraternity in college twice, I had that little “platoon” of dudes in high school.
RTB: Would you say you’ve naturally found yourself in leadership positions?
DO: Definitely. And I knew that when I got through OCS and all of that shit, when I got to the fleet, I knew I would be a good officer. I had no doubt in my mind. It just felt like something that I was born to do.
RTB: So you went from dumb kid, to an infantry officer in the Marine Corps, and now you’re focused on entertaining post-9/11 veterans. How did you get your start in comedy?
DO: I have always been that guy who was hanging out with a bunch of buddies and telling a really funny, really graphic, self-deprecating story. I have been that guy since I was 17. To this day, my favorite part of life is the morning after a party - preferably one that I throw, so I know everyone got laid - the morning after the party in my living room, just telling stories about the night before. Reliving it a little. That’s my home. People kept telling me I should do stand-up, or write, or whatever. So last year I have to travel to Texas for a non-related business trip - I’m thinking to myself how can I make this trip more beneficial for me? So this is what I fucking did, bro: I just decided to call a VFW in Texas and ask them if I could do a show. I threw it up on my Facebook page and around 50 people showed up. Holy shit. I just did it, and people just showed up. I wasn’t really happy with my performance, so I told myself if I do this shit again, I want to be the best. My next show was an hour and ten minute set and I crushed it. Right after that I decided to do a nationwide comedy tour.
RTB: So, it’s obvious just talking to you that you’re really passionate about your comedy. What’s behind that?
DO: So it’s like, anything that I create, I’m trying to speak to someone, and I’m trying to speak to someone because I’m trying to be a good influence on them. I don’t make entertainment for the sake of attention, I make entertainment so I can get your attention and be a good influence on you.
RTB: Were you doing more than stand-up? You made a bunch of videos that went viral in the Marine Corps community, correct?
DO: Here’s kind of how everything happened: Around January, last year, the non-profit was making my life miserable. I was like, you know what, this is pissing me off, I am a writer. I stopped marketing my book when I started the non-profit because I didn’t want people to think I started it only to promote a book. But I needed to sell my book, and market it like a professional, and the best way I know how to do it is to make a video. And I decided that I was going to make something specifically for enlisted infantrymen and if no one else gets it, I don’t give a fuck. It was right around the time that all that shit with female officers falling out of IOC was going on, and I had written a piece making fun of that as a tryout for Duffleblog. It was your typical Duffleblog humor. Paul never got back to me. I said, I’ll turn this into a video. It went viral right away. And I learned through that experience that I was almost as good a filmmaker as I was a writer.
RTB: So this is when you realized that not a lot of people were making video content directed toward infantry veterans?
MO: Right. The only people who were making entertaining videos that are intended for veterans are the Article 15 guys. The RangerUp and Article 15 guys found so much support during their campaign, and I knew that I was creating something that would take the awesome things that they did to the next level. Those guys laid the groundwork for entertainment in the veteran community, and Im just taking their success and expounding on it to a subscription nextwork that can give us the same humor in the form of a new scripted show about military life once a week, forever.
BTW Range 15 had the biggest theatrical release for a film without a distributor, in history. I saw that and I knew I could do this.
RTB: Have you run into any red tape with going from your non-profit work to VeteranTV?
DO: Fuck no. I do whatever the fuck I want. Red tape? Fuuuuuck no.
RTB: (Laughing) So you did a bunch of research and put some material together and what came out the other end was VetTV?
DO: I was literally just sitting in my room, after I had compiled all of this research together, and I was just 120% convinced that I could make this work and that I could run a successful crowdfunding campaign. The RangerUp and Article 15 guys found so much support during their campaign, and I knew that I had a product that is better than theirs. They had the biggest release for a film without a distributor ever. I saw that and I knew I could do this. I made a lot of great relationships with some great people during my non-profit days. I nurture relationships like a I nurture a chick who might fuck me some day. So I heard that other groups were looking at making subscription based entertainment for vets. I put together everything I needed to show what VetTV could be and I put it out there.
RTB: So if you had to sum up what VetTV is in one sentence, what would it be?
DO: Comedy Central and HBO for the veteran community, that functions exactly like Netflix or Hulu.
RTB: And when does everything go live?
DO: We officially launch on July 1st, 2017. Veterantv.net is the place.
Mark your calendars, folks: July 1st, 2017. I have already secured my subscription and cannot wait to see their content. If you want to see Donny’s vision for the future of veteran entertainment, I highly recommend you check out their site and subscribe.
Speaking to someone you’ve never met before on the phone is a crapshoot. I would like to personally thank Donny O’Malley for getting in touch with us and taking the time to do an interview, and for making it entertaining and insightful.
Dan Willis was an infantryman in the Marine Corps from 2010-2015 after a tumultuous and short career on Wall Street, serving with Fox Company 2/9. He is currently working on his undergraduate degree in economics at Columbus State Community College, and expects to finish at The Ohio State University. Dan humbly serves as RTB Media's Creative Director and Co-founder. Follow Dan on Twitter.
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