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 "How many members of a specified ethnic demographic does it take to change a light bulb?"

"Ten-- one to screw in the light bulb and nine to act in a manner stereotypical of their ethnicity."

A stock joke about poking fun at groups with the ridiculous ways they would change a light bulb.

The common format is "How many (group of people) does it take to change a light bulb? X+1. 1 to change the bulb, and X to (humorous caricature of group)."

Another is a means to accuse them of Pride: "How many (people) does it take to change a lightbulb? One. He holds it up, and the universe revolves about him to screw it in."

This can sometimes be mocking other groups, but it can also be Self-Deprecation of one's own group.

Take ourselves as tropers:
Q How many tropers does it take to change a light bulb?
A One, but someone will put the old bulb back with a Justifying Edit.

Another example:
Q How many tropers does it take to change a light bulb?
A One screws in the lightbulb, while nine others mark the ways he was similar to other lightbulb screwers.

It also has many variations (including noting the pun of "screw").

The original joke is in some danger of being a Forgotten Trope:

Q How many (insert Funny Foreigner of choice here) does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A Two, one to hold the bulb, and one to turn the ladder.

Of course this joke shows up in fiction as well, and examples here should be limited to such. It's generally acknowledged as being a Stock Shtick, and thus usually a sign that the character doesn't know any better jokes. It's also a good candidate for an Orphaned Feed Line.

In Speculative Fiction, the exact format of the joke may be altered slightly to allow for the lack of light bulbs.

Compare Knock-Knock Joke.

Examples in fiction:


  • There was an ad for fluorescent bulbs, bragging about lasting seven years. There's a kid who was newborn when the bulb was put in, and near the end of those seven years, he doesn't get a light bulb joke, saying "Change a light bulb? Why would anybody need to change a light bulb?"
  • Babylon 5 has the following:

 John Sheridan: How many Minbari does it take to screw in a light bulb? None. They surrender right before they finish the task and they never tell you why.

Londo Mollari: How many Centauri does it take to screw in a light bulb? Only one. But, in the grand old days of the Republic, hundreds of servants would change thousands of light bulbs at our slightest whim!

 'Do you know any lamp-wick jokes?' he said, settling himself comfortably on the sand.

'I don't think so,' said Nijel politely, tapping a slab.

'I know hundreds. They are very droll. For example, do you know how many trolls it takes to change a lamp-wick?'

'This slab moves,' said Nijel. 'Look, it's a sort of door. Give me a hand.'

  • Dominic Deegan has Donovan crack one off to the orc shaman Thuen Gor: "How many Callanians does it take to install a lamp post? One - he sticks it in the ground and waits for the world to revolve around him."
  • In the Gargoyles episode "The Reckoning", Fang uses this joke - and unless I'm just hearing things, his inflection must have been skirting the radar: "How many gargoyles does it take to screw in a light bulb?" (Emphasis his.) The question is never answered, and the creator, Greg Weisman, eventually turned it into a contest on his "Ask Greg" website.
    • If you were hearing it right, the answer is "Two, but it has to be a BIG light bulb."
    • He gets another in the Bad Guys sequel in comic form. "How many mutants does it take to change a lightbulb? Three to sit there and one to hang [around]." Cue him nearly getting his head cut off because Yama considers making a joke about traumatised victims, one of whom hanged themselves, of a mad scientist seriously not cool.
  • Irregular Webcomic gives us the formulaic lightbulb joke.
  • Hominids by Robert Sawyer is about a Neanderthal scientist from a parallel universe who falls into our universe as the result of a lab accident. A news dump at the beginning of one of its chapters has:

 Q: How many Neanderthals does it take to change a light bulb?

A: All of them.

  • From Larry Niven's Known Space stories:

 Q How many Jinxians does it take to paint a skyscraper?

A Five, one to hold the can of spray paint and four to shake the building up and down.

    • For those who don't know, Jinxians are fairly short and freakishly strong, having come from a high-gravity world.
  • Mitch Clem of Nothing Nice to Say went self-referential in his journal comic.
  • Jacen Solo, in his humor-loving young Jedi apprentice days, attempted to piss off some Imperial captors with the question "How many stormtroopers does it take to change a glowpanel?"

  Two, one to change it and the other to shoot him and take the credit.

 How many Corellians does it take to change a glowpanel?

None, it's easier to cheat at Sabacc in the dark.

    • To say nothing of one devised by one of the "Star Wars Kids" magazines:

 How many Wookiees does it take to change a lightbulb?

Ten. One to hold the bulb, and nine to turn the house around.

  • From V:

 Q: How many Visitors does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None, they like the dark!

  • Yendi, one of the books in Steven Brust's Dragaera series, has "How many X does it take to sharpen a sword?" jokes, where X is one of the Dragaeran Houses.

 How many Dzur does it take to sharpen a sword?

Four: one to sharpen the sword and three to put up enough of a fight to make it worthwhile.

How many Yendi does it take to sharpen a sword?

Three: one to sharpen the sword and one to confuse the issue.

    • This has a bunch more Dragaeran sword-sharpening jokes written by fans. The Planet of Hats setting really lends to them.

 How many Dragonlords does it take to sharpen a sword?

One. This is not a joke.

 How many Easterners does it take to sharpen a sword?

Four: three to turn the grindstone and one to hold the sword.

  • Guild Wars: "How many Asuras does it take to screw in a power core? None, they force a human to do it for them!"
  • A Song of Ice and Fire even gets in on the act, with "shoe a horse" instead of "change a lightbulb." For example, Q:"How many Dornishmen does it take to shoe a horse?" A: "Five, one to do the shoeing, and four to lift the horse".
  • Dilbert: "How many left-handed Elbonians does it take to screw in a light bulb? None! Left-handed Elbonians don't have light bulbs!" However, few Elbonians even know what light bulbs are.
  • The card game Apples To Apples has these as flavor text on all of its nationality cards:

"How many Americans does it take to change a lightbulb?"

"Hey! That's not funny! WE'RE SUING!"

"How many Canadians does it take to change a lightbulb?"

"10. 9 to chip it out of the ice and one to change the lightbulb."

"How many Japanese does it take to change a lightbulb?"
—"Who needs lightbulbs when you've got our technology?"

 Crow: How many geeks does it take to change a lightbulb?

Tom: How many?

Crow: I don't know, that's why I'm asking.

  • Comedian Marcus Brigstocke on the subject of a news headline "EU Switches Off Our Lightbulbs" reporting the introduction of fluorescent bulbs:

 How many Daily Mail readers does it take to change a lightbulb?

What was wrong with the old one, eh? Remember the good old days, when bulbs were round and not curly! Where is the Britain of our past? It's Political Correctness Gone Mad!

  • From "Squirrel Jokes": "How come it takes more than one squirrel to screw in a lightbulb? Because they're SO. DARN. STUPID!"
  • The book "Poetry and Prose from the Director's Ass." ends with multiple Light bulb jokes about workers (such as Production Assistants, teamsters, stunt people, etc) in television based upon the author's experience as an Assistant Director on Star Trek.
  • The Pretender: In "Hazards", psychiatrist Sydney, in an unusually good mood, tells the standard psychiatrist light bulb joke. ("One. But the light bulb has to want to change.")
  • The Wings episode "Gone But Not Faygotten" has Fay retire and the Hackett brothers hiring Casey to replace her as Sandpiper's ticket agent. When Fay wants to come back, neither Joe nor Brian has the heart to tell her no, but they can't bring themselves to fire Casey either, so they let them both run the counter, even though the job can easily be handled by one person. Roy comments on the situation.

 Roy: Hey, I got one for you. How many Sandpiper employees does it take to change a light bulb? Four. Two to change the bulb, and two other idiots to pay them for doing it.

 Rock: Okay, how many Polacks does it take to change a lightbulb?

Revy: I'm guessing one to hold the lightbulb, and 99 to turn the house, isn't that it?

Rock: Um... er... let's see. So, the Pope says to the guy who dressed like he's homeless...

Revy: Yeah, "I thought I told you to get out of here yesterday". Yeah, good one. Do me a favor and just shut up and drive, will ya?!

 How many socialists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Too many! 4 to requisition the light bulb, 4 more to process the requisition in triplicate, 8 to manufacture the light bulb, 3 to subsidize the manufacturing, 3 to procure the light bulb, 2 to supervise the manufacturing and procurement process, 7 to warehouse the light bulb for an indeterminate length of time, 4 to deliver the light bulb to the wrong address, 4 more to re-deliver the light bulb, 6 to receive the light bulb and 1 to screw it up! 47.

How many capitalists does it take to screw in a light bulb? 2. One impoverished nation willing to exploit its malnourished population and rape its natural resources to manufacture, package and deliver the light bulb to Wal-Mart... and me.

  • Xkcd #841: How many audiophiles does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
  • In Red Dwarf, Kryten is a little unclear on the concept:

 How many mechanoids does it take to change a lightbulb? ... Twelve! ... Do you know why? ... Because they're so stupid!

  • The Sims Medieval, unlike previous Sims games, has text pop up on screen when your Sims Gossip. Two of the messages are jokes along the lines of Lightbulb Jokes poking fun at the game's two religions.

 How many Jacobans does it take to empty a chamberpot?

It depends on the current proclamation.

  Frieza: How many Namekians does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Their whole race! One to screw in the lightbulb, and the rest to die....and then the other one dies too.

    • Later, when Piccolo shows up:

 Frieza: Well, well, well! I'm legitimately surprised I missed one of you. But that's just fine, because I've been working on some jokes. Now tell me if you've heard this one. How many Namekians does it take to -

Piccolo: (punches him across the sky) Just one.

 Peter: How many dirty, stinkin' apes does it take to screw in a light bulb? Three. One dirty, stinkin' ape to screw it in, and two dirty, stinkin' apes to throw feces at each other!

(the apes cock their guns)

  • A rather dark example of playing with this trope occurs in Disney's Mulan. Shan Yu dispatches two captured enemy scouts to deliver his warning to the emperor. After the two have already started to run away, Shan Yu casually asks an archer, "How many men does it take to deliver a message?" The answer the archer gives us is "one" and a drawn bowstring, implying that one of the scouts was murdered because he was unnecessary.
  • The Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego? video game had Good Guide Renée Santz try to tell Mona Lisa a joke ("How many ACME agents does it take to screw in a light bulb?"), to which Mona Lisa replies "What's a light bulb?"
  • Rather than asking the question or giving a straight answer, the intro to the Justice Friends demonstrates us that at the very least, three Avengers expies are NOT enough to change a lightbulb.
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