Jeff Whitty is a playwright who lives in New York City. He was born September 30, 1971, and was raised in Coos Bay, Oregon. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 1993, and received a Master's degree from New York University in 1997. He won the 2004 Tony Award for Best Book of a musical for Avenue Q, written with Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, which opened on Broadway in 2003. His plays include The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler; The Plank Project (a parody of documentary theater pieces like The Laramie Project); the romantic New York comedy The Hiding Place; the dark comedy Suicide Weather; and Zora, based on a true story that appeared on NPR's This American Life. He is developing Freedom City, an original movie musical with music by Andre 3000 of Outkast.
Whitty is also an actor, having appeared in New York productions of plays by Amy Freed, including The Beard of Avon and Freedomland.
To keep himself financially afloat during the writing process of Avenue Q, Whitty worked as a go-go dancer at bars across Manhattan, including The Park and The Slide.
Letter to Jay Leno
On April 20, 2006, Jeff Whitty wrote a letter to NBC's Tonight Show host, Jay Leno, criticizing the performer for his use of homosexuals as material for his monologues and jokes. The letter, which Whitty only sent to three people, soon spread across the internet and led to Whitty being interviewed on CNN the following Wednesday. The letter as appears on his website is as follows:
- April 20th, 2006
- Dear Mr. Leno,
- My name is Jeff Whitty. I live in New York City. I'm a playwright and the author of Avenue Q, which is a musical currently running on Broadway. I've been watching your show a bit, and I'd like to make an observation:
- When you think of gay people, it's funny. They're funny folks. They wear leather. They like Judy Garland. They like disco music. They're sort of like Stepin Fetchit as channeled by Richard Simmons.
- Gay people, to you, are great material.
- Mr. Leno, let me share with you my view of gay people:
- When I think of gay people, I think of the gay news anchor who took a tire iron to the head several times when he was vacationing in St. Martin. I think of my friend who was visiting Hamburger Mary's, a gay restaurant in Las Vegas, when a bigot threw a smoke bomb filled with toxic chemicals into the restaurant, leaving the staff and gay clientele coughing, puking, and running in terror. I think of visiting my gay friends at their house in the country, sitting outside for dinner, and hearing, within hundreds of feet of where we sat, taunting voices yelling "Faggots." I think of hugging my boyfriend goodbye for the day on 8th Avenue in Manhattan and being mocked and taunted by passing high school students.
- When I think of gay people, I think of suicide. I think of a countless list of people who took their own lives because the world was so toxically hostile to them. Because of the deathly climate of the closet, we will never be able to count them. You think gay people are great material. I think of a silent holocaust that continues to this day. I think of a silent holocaust that is perpetuated by people like you, who seek to minimize us and make fun of us and who I suspect really, fundamentally wish we would just go away.
- When I think of gay people, I think of a brave group that has made tremendous contributions to society, in arts, letters, science, philosophy, and politics. I think of some of the most hilarious people I know. I think of a group that has served as a cultural guardian for an ungrateful and ignorant America.
- I think of a group of people who have undergone a brave act of inventing themselves. Every single out-of-the-closet gay person has had to say, "I am not part of mainstream society." Mr. Leno, that takes bigger balls than stepping out in front of TV-watching America every night. I daresay I suspect it takes bigger balls to come out of the closet than anything you have ever done in your life.
- I know you know gay people, Mr. Leno. Are they just jokes to you, to be snickered at behind their backs? Despite the angry tenor of my letter, I suspect you're a better man than that. I don't bother writing letters to the "God Hates Fags" people, or Donald Wildmon, or the pope. But I think you can do better. I know it's The Tonight Show, not a White House press conference, but you reach a lot of people.
- I caught your show when you had a tired mockery of Brokeback Mountain, involving something about a horse done up in what you consider a "gay" way. Man, that's dated. I turned the television off and felt pretty fucking depressed. And now I understand your gay-baiting jokes have continued.
- Mr. Leno, I have a sense of humor. It's my livelihood. And being gay has many hilarious aspects to it—none of which, I suspect, you understand. I'm tired of people like you. When I think of gay people, I think of centuries of suffering. I think of really, really good people who've been gravely mistreated for a long time now.
- You've got to cut it out, Jay.
- Jeff Whitty
- New York, N.Y.
Within a week Jay Leno called the playwright and the two had a conversation to which Whitty described the outcome being, "comedy is tough."