By Lynne Beverly Strang
What if you could create an online community that brings together some of the funniest people on the planet? That lets writers, stand-up comics, cartoonists and other humorists publish their work, push the envelope and spread their creative wings?
For Donna Cavanagh, that “what if” became a reality eight years ago, when she started HumorOutcasts.com in her late 40s. In its “About” section, HumorOutcasts.com describes itself as “THE place to take a humor break.” Visit this site and you’ll find funny stories, drawings and musings about everything under the sun, from pancake house waitresses to Kim Kardashian’s new baby nursery.
At an earlier age, the Philadelphia, PA-based writer never envisioned founding a website for people who needed a chuckle. Her entry into humor was “sort of accidental,” says Cavanagh in a podcast interview with BizStarters’ Jeff Williams.
An Unexpected Career Pivot
She started out as a night-shift newspaper reporter covering Montgomery County, PA. As explained in this article for Chestnut Hill Local, her career took an unexpected turn when she “lightly skewered her boss in a piece circulated at an office party.”
Cavanagh was understandably nervous when the boss called her into his office the next morning. But instead of handing her a pink slip, he complimented the holiday piece and asked her to start writing humor. And so a humorist was born.
Eventually, Cavanagh left the paper and spent several years writing syndicated humor columns for Pennsylvania and national publications. Then the big online sites began slashing humor, leaving few opportunities for her content. Rather than lamenting about the situation, Cavanagh decided to do something about it.
A Hobby Turns Into Something Bigger
With technical help from her computer engineer husband, she set up a website in 2011 as “a hobby sort of thing.” She chose the name HumorOutcasts.com because it described how she and her fellow humorists felt in the Internet writing world.
From there, things “sort of took off,” says Cavanagh. Today, HumorOutcasts.com showcases the talents of more than 100 writers, from newbies to award-winning television writers and producers. The site gets between 2,500 and 20,000 hits per day.
The website’s success has led Cavanagh to form a publishing house that now has more than 60 titles. Her company publishes books under three labels: HumorOutcasts Press for humor; Shorehouse Books for other genres; and Corner Office Books for professional, business and legal books.
Cavanagh herself is the author of several books, including How to Write and Share Humor: Techniques to Tickle Funny Bones and Win Fans. While she enjoys showcasing the work of funny writers, there’s a serious side to what she does.
“Humor is so important,” she says. “If we don’t have humor, we don’t have a life.”
“Nothing Happens Overnight”
Her advice for 40-and-older entrepreneurs? Learn about technology. Take classes, be up to date and have fun with it. If you don’t want to handle social media yourself, hire someone who knows what they’re doing.
“Getting discouraged is part of the game, so don’t let it drag you down and don’t be afraid to learn,” she says.
She also points out the need for patience.
“It’s a wonderful time to do what you want, but nothing happens overnight,” says Cavanagh. “Each day is a challenge but each day is the opportunity to do what you love.”