It will be a case of ‘stand-up’ and be counted when nearly 400 national and international acts and events descend on Melbourne for the 24th Melbourne International Comedy Festival. With a 17 percent increase in the number of shows from last year, Australia’s largest cultural event – and one of the three biggest comedy festivals in the world – now boasts more laughs than ever.

The 24th Festival will be tickling Melbourne’s funnybone for four weeks from 24 March, bringing back the whimsy, pulling some legs, and just generally putting funny business back in some of our favourite festival venues: Melbourne Town Hall, Trades Hall, The Forum, City Square, Capitol Theatre, along with a host of new fabulous venues across the CBD and suburbs – from op shops to libraries.  And with an extra $40,000 from the City of Melbourne to support late night programming, acts including Silent Disco, the world-wide festival phenomenon requiring headphones and dancing shoes, and American comedy duo Janeane Garofolo and Greg Behrendt will be keeping a smile on audiences’ dials til the early hours.

Sales thus far have exceeded expectation, with a number of performances selling out before the official program is released on 18 February. With Festival shows featuring everything from burlesque to break-ups, puppetry to poetry, and robots to rock comedy, all served with a healthy side of sex, religion and politics, the 24th Melbourne International Comedy Festival has something on the menu for everyone.

2010 Festival event highlights include:

Hannah Gadsby Goes International, an art appreciation tour led by Raw Comedy winner and qualified curator Hannah Gadsby; Comedy Confidential, a chat ‘show and tell’ featuring tales from industry insiders including John Safran, Robyn Kershaw, Charlie Pickering and director and producer of cult comedy The Aristocrats, Paul Provenza (USA); and Good Evening – The Sketches of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore performed by Shaun Micallef and Stephen Curry: a comedy combination born in heaven.

International imports include:  2009 Barry Award winners The Pajama Men (USA), Australia’s adopted son Arj Barker, 2009 Edinburgh Fringe best show winner Tim Key (UK), ‘Lord of the Mince’ Julian Clary, singer-songwriter and spoken word specialist Henry Rollins, triple Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee Russell Kane (UK), 2008 Barry winner Nina Conti (UK), Edinburgh Fringe 2008 best newcomer Sarah Millican (UK), queen of whimsy Josie Long (UK), razor-sharp political comedian Jamie Kilstein (USA), Spicks And Specks and Good News Week regular Reginald D Hunter (USA), 2008 Chortle Awards best breakthrough act Jon Richardson (UK), 2006 Edinburgh Fringe best show winner Phil Nichol (CAN) and Headliners, a rotating triple-bill of current faves on the US comedy circuit.

As well as Aussie favourites:  Spicks And Specks host Adam Hills, 2006 MICF Most Outstanding  newcomer Sammy J, Alice Springs’ most famous mum Fiona O’Loughlin, one half of Lano and Woodley Frank Woodley, Rove regular Peter Helliar, star of The Gruen Transfer Wil Anderson, up-and-comer Celia Pacquola and comedy greats Peter Rowsthorn and Trevor Marmalade, who are joining forces to take MICF to the Mornington Peninsula and beyond.

Together with huge program of special events, such as: Raw Comedy, a national competition in search of new comic talent, Class Clowns Teenage Gala for school-aged comedians, the Indigenous comedy competition and workshop program Deadly Funny, the Oxfam Gala - broadcast to millions around the country on Channel 10, Prime Time, a classy afternoon of grown-up stand-up, and late-night frivolity at the Festival Club at the HiFi. Free family-freindly events such as Big Laugh Out at Federation Square and the specially produced children’s program including Comedy Club for Kids provide perfect school holiday entertainment.

Melbourne International Comedy Festival Director, Susan Provan said: “The Festival once again is bursting at the seams with major international and local artists. It continues to grow and prosper as one of the world’s great festivals. It is a terrific time to enjoy the city so give tweeting and texting a rest and take your heart and soul out for a live and in–person laugh”