Faber & Faber, £14.99, 195pp. £13.49 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Comedy Rules, By Jonathan Lynn

Jonathan Lynn may be best known as the co-writer of Yes Minister (Margaret Thatcher's favourite sitcom, allegedly) but he has also turned his hand to comic acting, directing and screenwriting. Who better to ask, therefore, if you want to write, perform or direct comedy? Surely he'd know what to do and what not to do? Yet this compact and cheerful book isn't just a user's manual. It's also a charming memoir, full of amusing and insightful anecdotes about the many entertainers Lynn has worked with.

By dovetailing different types of book, Lynn cleverly avoids the pitfalls of both genres. Because it's ostensibly a sort of how-to book, there are no boring childhood reminiscences. Because it's also a kind of autobiography, his no-nonsense dos and don'ts are springboards for entertaining yarns, rather than academic discourse. Like all good sitcom writers, "show me don't tell me" is his mantra, as he illustrates his 150 rules with tales from the comedic front line.

Some are simple common sense (though it's remarkable how many people forget them): make the comedy appropriate to the situation; try to insist that drinks and food are not served while you're on stage; beware a phone call from the Inland Revenue, even an invitation to lunch. Yet just as many rules could easily inspire an entire PhD thesis (perish the thought): comedy is objective - tragedy is subjective; the Seven Deadly Sins are present in all comedy; the oldest source of comedy is the Ten Commandments. Probably not quite true, but intriguing all the same.

Lynn's best rules are the ones you never thought of, but make perfect sense when you ponder them: if you start with an absurd premise, you must follow it through with total logic; if the band – or film crew – laugh loudly at a joke, you should probably cut it; topicality doesn't matter – human nature doesn't change.

Comedy Rules is more than a checklist for aspiring comics. Its series of brief but astute biographies linger in the mind's eye long after you've forgotten most of the rules. Lynn reveals relatively little about himself (his breezy writing style is hard to penetrate) but he's a shrewd observer of other people, especially performers. His lightning sketch of John Cleese and Graham Chapman captures the essence of their partnership in a paragraph. His tender portraits of Leonard Rossiter and Jack Rosenthal are remarkably acute. Yet you can sense that, deep down, what matters most to Lynn, like all comics, is laughter.

His devotion to the punchline is encapsulated in a toe-curling account of how he was invited to accept an award from Mary Whitehouse, and ended up watching Margaret Thatcher performing an ersatz Yes Minister sketch. "I'd like to thank Mrs Whitehouse for this award," said Lynn, as he received his prize, "and I should also like to thank Mrs Thatcher for finally taking her rightful place in the field of situation comedy." As Lynn recalls, this impromptu gag made everyone laugh, apart from the PM. "I was never invited back to Number 10 and never offered an honour," he reflects, "but the joke worked."

William Cook's 'Kiss Me, Chudleigh – The World According to Auberon Waugh' (Coronet) will be published in paperback in October

Arts & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit