Daniel Kitson has moved far from his old stand-up routines. Photo: New York Times
Noel Fielding: An Evening With Noel Fielding
It's been a long time since The Mighty Boosh performed at the festival and, while we won't be seeing the duo this year either, at least we'll have Vince Noir himself, Noel Fielding. Anyone familiar with Fielding's work, whether in the Boosh stage or TV shows or his many other TV credits (Luxury Comedy, The IT Crowd and Never Mind the Buzzcocks) will recognise his off-the-planet – nay, off-the-dimension – humour and surreal flights of fancy. Three shows only.
Hamer Hall, April 15, 16, 19
Daniel Kitson: Polyphony
One of the most beloved visitors to Melbourne returns to the festival program for the first time in years. Kitson has moved far beyond his old stand-up routines, beyond comedy itself, into far more theatrical territory and this latest offering is no exception. In Polyphony, 20 actors will perform the characters in Kitson's script. The catch? They've all been pre-recorded on separate cassette tapes, to be played throughout the show. Another innovative idea from one of comedy's true originals.
Northcote Social Club, March 25 – April 19 (no shows Friday and Saturday)
Josie Long will likely deliver a touching work that leaves you smiling.
For someone who is one of the country's greatest comedy exports, Jefferies' profile is surprisingly low in Australia. In the US, he's a big name and has starred in his own sitcom. But he's not universally loved – Jefferies' confrontational style can divide audiences, there are those who love his nothing-off-limits honesty and those who ... don't. There's a video on YouTube someone going beyond the realms of heckling and actually physically attacking him on stage. You'll only have two shows at the festival to find out what the fuss is about.
Palais Theatre, March 27-28
Speaking of heckling, drunken audience members heckling performers can ruin a show. On the other hand, sometimes a heckler can deliver such a brilliant put-down that they get a bigger laugh than the poor comedian. With Heckle! the comedians have throw down the challenge to audiences to come along to a late-night show and do their worst. With any luck, this will result in some brilliant improvised insults from both performers and audiences. A rotating line-up of performers will face the music.
Athenaeum Theatre, Mar 27-April 18 (Fri, Sat only)
Josie Long: Cara Josephine
The UK Long has been compared to compatriot Kitson, but a more apt comparison is probably our own Adam Hills. Both deliver the kind of upbeat, feel-good comedy that leaves you feeling warm inside. Long has been nominated for Edinburgh's top award three times and this latest show takes on the topics of heartbreak and changing your ways. Reportedly the best-reviewed show at Edinburgh last year, Cara Josephine will likely be a touching work that still leaves you smiling.
Melbourne Town Hall, April 6-19
Jen Kirkman: I'm Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)
At the other end of the spectrum, Kirkman was one of the highlights of last year's Headliners showcase of US stand-ups, impressing with her black, self-deprecating material on being a 40-year-old divorcee with no kids. Her brutally honest assessments of middle age won't suit all tastes, but those looking for stand-up with a dark edge should be on her wavelength.
Melbourne Town Hall, March 26-19
Neil Hamburger: Discounted Entertainer
Speaking of divisive, US comedian Hamburger is bound to be loved by some and loathed by others this festival. A master of anti-comedy, Hamburger will toy with his audience, goading them with terrible, overstretched jokes and a throat he just cannot clear (no matter how he tries). He can work beautifully, for those who get it, in front of a drunken crowd that doesn't understand what's happening. Not his first visit to Australia, but his first at the festival. This will be a show people are talking about, one way or another.
Portland Hotel, March 26-April 19
Steen Raskopoulos: Character Assassin
A best newcomer nominee in 2013, Raskopoulos returned to the festival last year with a show that took him to the next level (and got him a best newcomer nomination in Edinburgh to boot). Few Australian live performers opt for sketch comedy outside university reviews. Raskopoulos has not only chosen sketch as his medium, he takes on the added challenge of doing it all solo – and succeeding. Last year's show had one of the best climaxes of any show of the festival, based around plenty of good-natured audience participation that tied together to create a pay-off gag that was delivered, not by Steen, but by one of the crowd. This year Raskopoulos moves from the Portland Hotel to the main game, the Melbourne Town Hall, a reflection of his rising success.
Melbourne Town Hall, March 26 - April 19
This year Melbourne is blessed with visits from not one, but two former correspondents from The Daily Show. Wyatt Cenac will perform as part of Headliners, while Che will perform five solo shows towards the end of the festival. Che made his debut as part of Headliners in 2013, but since then has gone on to become one of US comedy's rising stars. Along with The Daily Show, he's joined the cast of Saturday Night Live and made a series of industry hot lists (including now, I guess, this one).
The Hi-Fi, April 16-19
Ongals: Babbling Comedy
It's not often we have comedians from South Korea perform at the festival, but Ongals are making their second appearance in a row after winning over crowds (and the festival director) during last year's free daytime Big Laugh Out shows in the City Square. Their physical comedy also won fans during late-night appearances at Festival Club. This year they're back with their own show and should deliver an energetic performance to suit audiences of all ages.