Question: How many Poles does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Answer:  One to hold the bulb, and 2 to turn the ladder

My informant told this joke at a social gathering.  She and her culturally diverse friends were all hanging out and telling racist jokes.  Kathy told this one to her friend of Polish descent because everyone jokingly ridicules him for being a “stupid Pole.”  My informant does not remember where she first heard the joke, but decides to continually use it because she always gets a good response from her audience.

Kathy says that it has become a social norm to make fun of Polish people for being stupid.  She is not sure why this is their stereotype, but guesses that it may be due to historical events.  She says, “They lost very horribly to the Germans in the war sooo maybe because they were completely defeated they were coined the “stupid ones?  I really have no idea!”  My informant says that this “light-bulb” joke is one of many Polish jokes.  Literally, it means that Polish people are too stupid to figure out that you can screw in a light bulb by twisting it with your hand. They think you need 2 more people to turn the ladder that the light bulb holder is standing on.

Our population is so culturally diverse.  We are a generation of mutts, with people from all descents.  Because of this, racial jokes have become very popular.  They always exaggerate an ethnicities stereotype, and the reason they are funny and not taken too seriously is because usually, the person of that descent hardly identifies with their heritage.  Most people live very Americanized lifestyles, so most do not very much offense to the joke.

In The Journal of American Folklore, Judith Kerman explains her take on Polish jokes.  She talks about how the joke has spread, resulting lots of versions.  Such as, “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?  Only one, but the light bulb must want to change.”  The joke has evolved from being purely ethnic to making fun of the way any group may decide to do something.

I think this is a funny joke, and I find it interesting that folklore such as this spread so rapidly and changes so readily.

Annotation:  Kerman, Judith B.  The Light-Bulb Jokes: American Look at Social Action Processes.  The Journal of American Folklore, Vol.93, No. 370.  Retrieved April 18, 2007 from