The 2016 Melbourne International Comedy Festival is fast approaching once again, with the annual, city-sprawling behemoth of fun gearing up for its historic 30th edition.

And as the March 23rd kick-off date looms, the festival has today dropped its full program. And let me tell you, it is absolutely bloody massive.

Sure, like most years its got your usual bevy of big-name local and international acts who make the trip down to Melbourne annually.

There’s Wil Anderson, Celia Pacquola, Dave Hughes, Arj Barker, Stephen K Amos, Hannah Gadsby, Dave Thornton, Sam Simmons, Frank Woodley, Tommy Little, Tom Gleeson, Matt Okine, Tom Ballard, Joel Creasey, Danny Bhoy, David O’Doherty, Sammy J & Randy, Tripod, Ross Noble, Paul Foot, and Sarah Millican all performing this year. And that’s *seriously* only naming just a few.

We don’t need to tell you about those legends; you’re all already well aware of them.

But the best parts of the Festival aren’t found in the big theatres.

The best bits of MICF are in the small rooms around town – in the tiny store rooms in the Melbourne Town Hall, in the side-rooms at the Forum Theatre, in the hub venues like the ever-excellent Imperial Hotel. They’re the smaller shows. The rawer shows. The late-night, unbridled, chaotic shows.

That’s the true beauty of the festival; getting stuck real deep into things and seeing some bloody awesome comedy.

Much like we did last year, when we delved into the program and found the best of the best (and all those acts have new shows this year which you should definitely also check out!) we’ve gone through the enormous program with a fine tooth comb and plucked out 15 highlights we strongly recommend you get involved with.

Anne Edmonds – That’s Eddotainment!

March 24th – April 17th, Melbourne Town Hall

Eddo absolutely fkn RULES, and the industry bloody well knows it. Last year she picked up the highly revered Piece Of Wood Award, an award voted on by a panel of fellow comedians; the Comic’s Comic award, if you will.

You might have seen her on shows like Wednesday Night Fever, Have You Been Paying Attention?, It’s A Date, or Sammy J & Randy in Ricketts Lane. But rest assured, it’s on the stage where Eddo’s at her best. Very few command an audience like she does. Will feature heavily in the end-of-festival awards picture.

Chimp Cop – Nights

April 2nd – April 16th, Imperial Hotel

If 80s cop films and primate law enforcement officials sound like your bag, then this is gonna melt your brains. One of the loosest, most buckwild shows of the 2015 festival, Chimp Cop returns this year with a new show, and a new attitude. The group, consisting of Adam Knox, Tim Clark, Ben Vernel, and Rosie Vernel lovingly spoof the genre in a loosely affiliated series of sketches and set pieces that starts of mad and only gets nuttier.

Last year’s show featured the sex scene to end all sex scenes that involved two doughnuts with different coloured icing and a banana. It’s 50% chimp, 50% cop, 100% Chimp Cop.

Dilruk Jayasinha – Sri Wanka

March 24th – April 17th, Victoria Hotel

Been to comedy room in Melbourne in the past few years? You’ve heard Dilruk‘s laugh.

The Sri Lankan-born, Hawthorn-supporting legend completely sold out his run of shows at the 2015 Festival, and he’s only gotten funnier in the 12 months since.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more buoyant, joyful comedian. His enthusiasm on stage is infectious – even when he’s ripping someone, or himself, a total new one.

Kyle Kinane – Terrestrial Woes

April 11th – April 17th, Melbourne Town Hall

A personal pick on the behalf of this particular writer/fan-of-comedy, Kyle Kinane is my favourite comedian of all time, hands-down, by a mile. No one breaks down the minutiae of otherwise mundane life events and spins them into comedy gold quite like Kyle. Want proof? Seek out the “Pancakes” bit from his 2012 special Whiskey Icarus.

Kinane serves as the voice of US cable network Comedy Central and has made numerous appearances on shows like @midnight or The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Check out his last special, I Liked His Old Stuff Better, released last year. Beyond unmissable.

Lauren Bok – Is That a Burrito In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Happy You Have A Burrito?

March 23th – April 3rd, Forum Theatre

Runaway favourite for show-title of the festival. Also up there for the best promo photo, too. Lauren Bok is a rising star on Melbourne’s comedy circuit, having spent the better part of the past few years treading the boards at comedy rooms and performing in group shows at festivals across the country.

Burrito is her debut solo show, and has been refined after unveiling it last year at the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

It’s drawing life metaphors threw the majesty of delicious Mexican food. What more do you want? Will leave you sore from laughing and also probably hungry.

Little Dum Dum Club – Live!

March 27th – April 17th, European Bier Café

The festival also features a number of live podcast recordings, as comedians take advantage of the opportunity to record in front of a captive audience. And The Little Dum Dum Club is – by a long shot – one of Australia’s most popular.

Karl Chandler and Tommy Dassalo are bringing their mousse-loving, hey mates-ing backsides back to the festival for a string of recordings, with god-knows-who on tap to show up. The ever-rotating cast of big-name guests alone should make this worth your time. As will the ever-legendary Drunkcast. Be prepared to get wet.

Nick Capper – Parallax Capper

March 24th – April 17th, Greek Centre

All hyperbole aside, Nick Capper is one of the funniest human beings I’ve ever seen perform. And that bullshit big hairdo he sports only really adds to it.

The show, his second solo show, continues the theme of big-concept storytelling, and follows on from last year’s Rambo-themed Capper.

Documenting his multiple occupations, the new show draws parallels in his own life path with that of his Grandfather – a highly decorated World War II vet.

Big laughs with an innate command of storytelling, which is a bloody rare combination.

Stuart Daulman – Can Ya Believe It!?

March 24th – April 16th, Melbourne Town Hall

One of those shows that’s best to walk into with absolutely no pre-conceived idea of what’s about to happen.

Daulman’s found his schtick and turned it into a god damn art form. And this is more than likely going to be an hour of comedy that starts off already too far gone, and only goes further.

Check your sensibilities at the door and strap in. It’ll be a hell of a ride.

The Consumption – The People vs Carmen Sandiego

April 5th – April 17th, The Downstairs Lounge @ The Grand Mercure Hotel

It’s not all just about straight-up stand-up at the festival, and this is the case-in-point of that.

The Consumption is a podcasting group with a penchant for wildly over-the-top stage plays. Their newest effort, The People vs Carmen Sandiego, is a series of sketch pieces with a loose, overarching narrative stitching it all together.

Previous efforts have been magnificently written and performed, and this will serve as a nice little cleanser of the palate for those of you feeling the fatigue of one-person-and-a-microphone shows.

True Australian Patriots – Live

March 25th – April 16th, Melbourne Town Hall

Hooooooo boy, is this ever gonna be a riot.

The demented idiots behind one of the most utterly brilliant satirical Facebook pages we’ve seen in a long, long time are putting together a late-night show of what’s bound to be seriously fucked up shit.

As per the show’s description: “This show will include re-education and philosophy about things like Hala, islamafications, sharita squads, skits and discussions, weights programs and fighting demos. A true patriot knows how to defend themselves.

So, y’know. Real family friendly stuff.

Enter if you dare. Do not complain if you can’t handle it.

Victoria Healy – The Vick Van Dyke Show

March 23rd – April 3rd, Imperial Hotel

Another front-runner for best promo photo, Vic’s a brash, loud, big personality with a stack of wit to match.

And after navigating a journey through a newly fluid sexuality last year, she’s throwing that up against the old time comedic stylings of Dick Van Dyke, because why the hell not?

Jokes for days. For DAYS, I tell you. A seriously wonderful comic.

Lewis Dowell, Timothy Clark, Alex Ward – 3 Little Gigs

March 23rd – April 2nd, Imperial Hotel

Groups shows are, as always, an excellent way to test the waters of the unfamiliar. A multi-comic bill usually has a little something for everyone in it, and they’re almost always remarkably affordable.

3 Little Gigs, curated by producer-extraordinaire Angela Thompson, is now in its 7th iteration, and is by-now a tenured staple format of the festival circuit.

It’s a devilishly simple idea – three young comedians sharing an hour’s worth of stage time. This time around the show features Lewis Dowell, Tim Clark, and Alex Ward. All of whom are very much worth your time and money. This one’s a no-brainer. Go see it.

Laura Dunemann – It’s Time For Death

March 24th – April 17th, Trades Hall

Course comedy can’t be all sunshine and farts, and if you have a taste for the dark and dry, there’s really no better place to start than here.

Exploring crippling fears, panic, sharks, death, and darkness, Dunemann’s debut solo show is compendium of her darkly acerbic wit and serves more as public therapy-as-entertainment.

It’s a diamond-in-the-rough kind of show, the likes of which usually appears next to the words “Best Newcomer” come the Festival’s end.

Facty Fact – vs. The Audience

March 23rd – April 3rd, Imperial Hotel

There aren’t many better hosts getting about the country than Dave Warneke, and his highly refined live quiz show Facty Fact is a well-oiled machine.

After touring it around the nation, the cult comedy quiz makes another return to the Melbourne Comedy Festival, pitting 3 different comedians each night against each other, but this time with an added audience-participation twist.

Your smart phone becomes your best friend and the contestant’s worst enemy, as everyone in the crowd gets to compete against the contestants, which have included the likes of Tom Ballard, DeAnne Smith, Ronny Chieng and many more in the past.

Do some star-spotting! Get involved!

Laura Davis – Marco. Polo.

March 24th – April 17th, ACMI

The winner of last year’s Golden Gibbo award – given out each year to an independent act that pushes boundaries, bucks trends, or otherwise produces weird and brilliant shit – Davis’s follow-up show to the critically acclaimed Ghost Machine promises “an above-ground pool party with a renowned underground cult favourite.

We have absolutely no idea what the hell that even means, but be damned if we’re not intrigued as fuck.

Run, don’t walk, to get in to this one. You will not regret it.

The 2016 Melbourne International Comedy Festival runs from March 23rd until April 17th at various venues in and around Melbourne.

The entire 2016 program can be viewed at the Comedy Festival website. Tickets for all shows are available now.

Photos: Melbourne International Comedy Festival.