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Lightbulb joke

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An Edison screw lightbulb

A lightbulb joke is a joke cycle 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[3][4] and the 1970s, were used to insult the intelligence of people, especially Poles ("Polish jokes").[5][6] 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 (e.g., "How many drunkards..." / "Four: one to hold the light bulb and three to drink until the room spins"), the people targeted by them may take pride in the stereotypes expressed and are often themselves the jokes' originators,[7] as in "How many Germans does it take to change a lightbulb? One, we're very efficient but not funny." where the joke itself becomes a statement of ethnic pride. Lightbulb jokes applied to subgroups can be used to ease tensions between them.[8]


Some versions of the joke are puns on the words "change"[9] or "screw",[10] or "light":

Q. How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
A. None—the light bulb will change when it's ready.[11][12]

Q. How many flies does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A. Two, but don't ask me how they got in there.[13]

Q. How many hands does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. Many.

Lightbulb jokes are often responses to contemporary events.[14] For example, the lightbulb may not need to be changed at all due to ongoing power outages.[15]

The Village Voice held a $200 lightbulb joke contest around the time of the Iran hostage crisis, with the winning joke being:[16]

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

Lightbulb jokes can also be about sports, teasing about their team's past, future, etc.

Q. How many Manchester United fans does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A. They don't, they just talk about how good the old one was.

Lightbulb jokes can also be related to religious groups and denominations.

Q. Why is it easier for a Pentecostal to change a light bulb?
A. Because their hands are already up.


  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. ^ "Try and Stop Me". Daily Review (Hayward, Cal.). 11 July 1965. p. 4. Retrieved 7 May 2014. Q. How many morons does it take to change a light bulb? Three: one to hold the bulb while he stands on a ladder! two to revolve the ladder.
  4. ^ Simmons, Donald C. (July–August 1966). "Anti-Italian-American Riddles in New England". Journal of American Folklore. 79 (303): 478. doi:10.2307/537513. JSTOR 537513. Retrieved 7 May 2017. How many Italians does it take to change a light bulb? Three -- one to hold the light bulb and two to turn the ladder.
  5. ^ Dundes, 261.
  6. ^ Kerman, 454–455.
  7. ^ Kerman, 456–457.
  8. ^ Richard M. Grimes (1996). "Shedding Light on Public Health". Journal of Public Health Policy. 17 (1). Palgrave Macmillan Journals: 99–101. doi:10.2307/3342661. JSTOR 3342661. PMID 8919963. S2CID 41885788.
  9. ^ Dundes in Boskin, 255–256.
  10. ^ Dundes in Boskin, 253–255.
  11. ^ Morris W. Beverage Jr. (September–October 2003). "Slow Change in a Fast Culture" (PDF). Educause Review: 10.
  12. ^ Martin Carnoy; Richard F. Elmore; Leslie Santee Siskin (2003). The New Accountability. Routledge. p. 195. ISBN 978-0-415-94705-3.
  13. ^ Suarez, Louise Marie (1991). Folklore and Its Electronic Modes of Transmission: Xerography, Electronic Mail, and Facsimile. University of California, Berkeley.
  14. ^ Dundes in Boskin, 255.
  15. ^ 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?
  16. ^ Dundes, 264.