TV Tropes Needs Your Help
View Kickstarter Project
Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here
and discuss here
Light Bulb Joke
"How many members of a specified ethnic demographic does it take to change a light bulb?"
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.
- 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:
open/close all folders
- 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?"
- A series of Volkswagen ads once featured a terrible German-accented comedian. The gag is to imply that while Germans are bad comedians, they're great engineers:
Q: How many German engineers duz it take to change a light bulb?
A: None, if it haz ben manufactured properly.
Zank you, I'll be here all ze week.
Anime and Manga
- Axis Powers Hetalia:
- In one strip, Poland asks Lithuania for help changing a lightbulb. When Lithuania asks why Poland isn't able to do so on his own, he tells Lithuania that he needs to turn the table while he holds the lightbulb in place. Most likely a Shout-Out to the original joke.
- The series also does this with Greece.
- Black Lagoon does this when Rock tries to entertain Revy while they're running errand around town. Unfortunately, Revy knows all his jokes, which almost results in a car crash.
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?!
- Played with in Dragon Ball Z
King Kai: Hey Goku, how many Super Saiyans does it take to change a lightbulb?
Goku: How many?
King Kai: There's no telling, but it only takes one to beat Frieza!
Film — Animated
- From A Bug's Life: "How many roaches does it take to screw in a light bulb? Can't tell. As soon as the light goes on, they scatter."
- 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.
Film — Live-action
- In Earthgirl by Janet Edwards, lightbulb jokes are a bit of a rediscovered fad among archaeologists ever since one dug up a book of them in an old city.
- The Discworld novel Sourcery has lamp-wick jokes (no relation):
'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.'
- 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:
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.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe:
- 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.
- One from I, Jedi (Said by Corran Horn):
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.
- 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.
- 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". This becomes an Ironic Echo when The Red Viper, the most notorious Dornishman of them all, comes on the scene.
How many Dornishman does it take to start a war? Tyrion thought. One.
- 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.
- In John M Ford's Star Trek novels, it's transtator jokes.
- The Final Reflection: How many Romulans does it take to change a transtator coil? Answer: 1 to change the coil, 150 to blow the ship up out of shame.
- How Much for Just the Planet?: How many Vulcans does it take to change a transtator? Answer: One to change the transtator and one to ask what's so funny.
- Brazilian comedy group Casseta & Planeta had this: "How many gorillas are needed to change a light bulb?" "One. But you'll need something about seventy light bulbs."
- Babylon 5:
- One told by Sheridan, with a somewhat black undercurrent to it given Earth's initial interactions with the Minbari:
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.
- Another one, in which a Centauri pokes semi-bitter fun at his people's nostalgia for their past:
: 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!
- From V:
Q: How many Visitors does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None, they like the dark!
- The Criminal Minds episode "Masterpiece" had Reid telling a joke to a college psychology class when he mentions he was studying philosophy. "How many existentialists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Two; one to change the lightbulb, and one to observe how it symbolizes an incandescent beacon of subjectivity in a netherworld of cosmic nothingness." Of course, nobody gets it. (The episode's unsub comes up to him a few minutes later and points out that an existentialist would allow the darkness to exist rather than change the light bulb.)
- From the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "The Final Sacrifice".
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- In an episode of How I Met Your Mother, Ted has been given the job of choosing the brand of lightbulbs to be used for the GNB headquarters, and worries about what will happen if the one he chooses poorly.
Ted: Do you know how many people it takes to change fifty thousand lightbulbs?!
Barney: Are these people Irish? Polish? Blondes? What are we dealing with here?
- Also from the episode "Little Minnesota"...."How many Canadians does it take to change a lightbulb?" "Oh, no a light went out!"
- 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?"
- Guild Wars: "How many Asuras does it take to screw in a power core? None, they force a human to do it for them!"
- 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.
- There's another one, and it does say lightbulb rather than 'light a lamp' or something:
How many Peterans does it take to change a lightbulb?
Why use a lightbulb when there's a Jacoban Cathedral nearby?
- 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?"
- Dee Cryption derisively asks the same question in Thomas Edison's lab when the player has to change one in order to complete a circuit.
- Mass Effect 3 has its own variation:
: How many humans does it take to activate a dormant mass relay
- Return To Zork features one in an ancient jokebook, as translated by the Mayor of Shanbar.
Q: How many computer programmers does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: That's a hardware problem!
- Smash Tasm: "How many blondes does it take to screw in a light bulb? One, because gender stereotypes based on hair color are totally unfair and sexist." ...Trust me, it's funnier in context.
- Dragon Ball Z Abridged - Frieza, after wiping out most of the Namekian species except for Nail, Dende and Guru.
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 -
- Epic Rap Battles of History: Rasputin raps this to Stalin in the form of a rhetorical question, as we already know the answer. A more serious example than most on this page.
Rasputin: "How many dictators does it take to turn an empire into a union of ruinous states?"
- In the Gargoyles episode "The Reckoning", Fang uses this joke "How many gargoyles does it take to screw in a light bulb?" The question is never answered, and the creator, Greg Weisman, eventually turned it into a contest on his "Ask Greg" website.
- Spongebob Squarepants: One of SpongeBob's racist jokes in "Squirrel Jokes": "How come it takes more than one squirrel to screw in a lightbulb? Because they're SO. DARN. STUPID!"
- Family Guy:
- Brian mentions that Peter doesn't have a great history when it comes to telling jokes. Cutaway Gag to Peter on the Planet of the Apes, surrounded and held at gunpoint.
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 variation happens when Stewie, Brian, and Mort get transported back in time to Poland on the eve of World War II, and their time machine breaks down:
Mort: Maybe someone can help us...
Stewie: Yeah, that's hilarious. How many Polacks does it take to fix a time machine?
- Rather than asking the question or giving a straight answer, the intro to Justice Friends demonstrates us that at the very least, three Avengers expies are either not enough or too many to change a lightbulb.
- Dungeons & Dragons: Eric asked how many dwarves were needed. His answer was that they weren't needed because they couldn't reach it.
- The Flintstone Kids: Captain Caveman asked how many of him were needed to change a light bulb. He said none of him because the light bulb hasn't been invented yet.
- Wunschpunsch: Jacob asked Meathead (Bubonic's carnivorous plant) how many carnivorous plants were needed to change a light bulb. Jacob said there were needed two: one to hold the light bulb and the other to turn around.
- Lloyd in Space: Douglas' father (of a race of walking talking brains) tells one about the Blobbulons, and says it takes 78 and a Half of them to change a lightbulb. Cut to Kurt and his parents (three Blobbulons) that just got done changing a lightbulb, the father remarking it would have been much easier if there were 75 and a half more of them.
- Ultimate Spider-Man: Spider-Man makes such a joke in "The Sinister Six".
Spider-Man: How many Sinister Sixters does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: Six! Four to hold down Electro. One to screw the lightbulb into his mouth.
(To the rest of the Sinister Six) Heh, you guys want to see that? It actually does work!
Electro: (After the rest of the Sinister Six glare at him) Maybe later.
- In one episode of Teen Titans, where Cyborg learns Tamaranian from Starfire, they exchange a joke about "how many does it take". All the rest of the words, as well as the pun, are left untranslated, so we can only wonder.
- In the South Park episode "Rainforest Schmainforest", the president of Costa Rica attempts to amuse a restless audience with such jokes as: "How many Polaks does it take to change a light bulb? Two."