Theatre and Film, Johnny Carson School of


Date of this Version

May 1949


Undergraduate Senior Thesis, May 1949.
Copyright © 1949 University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the John W. Carson Foundation. This work may not be redistributed without permission of the copyright holders.


Entertainment and television icon Johnny Carson received his bachelor of arts degree in radio and speech (with a minor in physics) in 1949 from the University of Nebraska. While at Nebraska, he was a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and served as master of ceremonies for the Kosmet Klub, a male dramatic society.

Before completing his bachelor of arts degree, Carson did a senior thesis for his broadcasting professor, William Dempsey. His 1949 senior thesis was entitled “How to Write Comedy for Radio,” which he recorded on a reel-to-reel tape. The 45-minute recording was a scholarly examination of the techniques and devices that radio comedy writers used to construct the jokes and gags in comedy radio shows. Using bits from several well-known comedians, such as Jack Benny and Bob Hope, Carson illustrated the various techniques used to write comedy, which he later effectively used in television through his “Tonight Show” monologues.

Born in Corning, Iowa, on Oct. 23, 1925, Carson grew up in Norfolk, Neb. He died on Jan. 23, 2005.

Carson became host of “The Tonight Show” in October of 1962. He retired in 1992 after hosting more than 4,531 shows.

In November 2004, Carson announced a gift of $5.3 million to the University of Nebraska Foundation to support the renovation and expansion of the Temple Building, where he got his start, and to create an endowment to keep performance spaces equipped with the latest advances in lighting and sound technologies.

Following Carson’s death in January 2005, the University of Nebraska Foundation received an additional gift of $5 million from the estate of Carson for endowed support of programs in theatre, film and broadcasting. Annual income from the endowment provides support to the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film in the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts and the broadcast program in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

In August 2005, the University of Nebraska renamed the Department of Theatre Arts the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film, creating a permanent legacy for Johnny at the University of Nebraska.

The complete 45-minute monologue is available as the "Related File" linked above. It is a downloadable mp3 file of 69 Mbytes.

Johnny Carson Thesis.mp3 (69261 kB)
Audio file of Johnny Carson Senior Thesis 1949