Lightbulb joke

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An Edison screw lightbulb

A lightbulb joke is a joke that asks how many people of a certain group are needed to change, replace, or screw in a light bulb. Generally, the punch line answer highlights a stereotype of the target group. There are numerous versions of the lightbulb joke satirizing a wide range of cultures, beliefs and occupations.[1][2]

Early versions of the joke, popular in the late 1960s and the 1970s, were used to insult the intelligence of Poles ("Polish jokes").[3][4] For instance:

Q. How many Polacks does it take to change a light bulb?
A. Three—one to hold the light bulb and two to turn the ladder.

Although lightbulb jokes tend to be derogatory in tone, the people targeted by them may take pride in the stereotypes expressed and are often themselves the jokes' originators.[5] Lightbulb jokes applied to subgroups can be used to ease tensions between them.[6]

Variations[edit]

Many versions of the joke are puns on the words "change"[7] or "screw":[8]

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
None–the light bulb will change when it's ready.[9][10]

A similar pun on the word revolution is employed in political jokes:

How many Proletariats does it take to screw in a light bulb?
None, the light bulb contains the seeds of its own revolution.

Implicit is an allusion to Marx's claims that capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction.[11]

Lightbulb jokes may be responses to current events, particularly those related to energy and political power.[12] For example, the lightbulb may not be changed at all due to ongoing power outages.[13] The Village Voice held a $200 lightbulb joke contest around the time of the Iran hostage crisis, with the winning joke being:[14]

How many Iranians does it take to change a light bulb?
You send us the prize money and we'll tell you the answer.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Elaine Viets (1991-09-04). "Light Bulb Jokes: Screwed-Up Humor". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 2007-12-14. "Some light bulb jokes make fun of ethnic groups, gays and women. Others shed light on certain professions..." 
  2. ^ "How Many Students Does It Take..". New York Times. 2004-11-07. Retrieved 2007-12-14. "Colleges have become the theme of at least one chestnut: the lightbulb joke." 
  3. ^ Dundes, 261.
  4. ^ Kerman, 454–5.
  5. ^ Kerman, 456–7.
  6. ^ Richard M. Grimes (1996). "Shedding Light on Public Health". Journal of Public Health Policy (Palgrave Macmillan Journals) 17 (1): 99–101. doi:10.2307/3342661. JSTOR 3342661. PMID 8919963. 
  7. ^ Dundes in Boskin, 255–6.
  8. ^ Dundes in Boskin, 253–5.
  9. ^ Morris W. Beverage Jr. (September–October 2003). "Slow Change in a Fast Culture". Educause Review: 10. 
  10. ^ Martin Carnoy, Richard F. Elmore, Leslie Santee Siskin (2003). The New Accountability. Routledge. pp. 195 pages = 239. ISBN 978-0-415-94705-3. 
  11. ^ The Cambridge Companion to Marx. 1991-10-25. Retrieved 2013-06-15. 
  12. ^ Dundes in Boskin, 255.
  13. ^ Michael Miller (2001-02-16). "And the winner is ... California". Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal. Retrieved 2007-12-14. "There are also a dozen light-bulb jokes zooming around the Internet, but what good are lightbulb jokes if you don't have power?" 
  14. ^ Dundes, 264.

Notes[edit]

  • Alan Dundes (1981). "Many Hands Make Light Work or Caught in the Act of Screwing in Light Bulbs". Western Folklore (Western States Folklore Society) 40 (3): 261–266. doi:10.2307/1499697. JSTOR 1499697. 
  • Alan Dundes (1981). "Many Hands Make Light Work or Caught in the Act of Screwing in Light Bulbs". In Joseph Boskin (1997). Humor prism in twentieth-century America. pp. 250–7. ISBN 978-0-8143-2597-1. 
  • Judith B. Kerman (1980). "The Light-Bulb Jokes: Americans Look at Social Action Processes". The Journal of American Folklore (American Folklore Society) 93 (370): 454–458. doi:10.2307/539876. JSTOR 539876.