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. An underlying irony of the joke in American English is the reference of "screwing in a lightbulb" to a sexual act. (In British English the action is more usually phrased as "changing a lightbulb".) There are numerous versions of the lightbulb joke satirizing a wide range of cultures, beliefs and occupations.
Early versions of the joke, popular in the late 1960s and the 1970s, were used to insult the intelligence of Poles ("Polish jokes"). 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. Lightbulb jokes applied to subgroups can be used to ease tensions between them.
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.
Lightbulb jokes may be responses to current events, particularly those related to energy and political power. For example, the lightbulb may not be changed at all due to ongoing power outages.The Village Voice held a $200 lightbulb joke contest around the time of the Iran hostage crisis, with the winning joke being:
How many Iranians does it take to change a light bulb?
You send us the prize money and we'll tell you the answer.
^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?"
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. JSTOR539876.