Lord Mayor Robert Doyle today launched the 26th Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Spiegeltent, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Emceed by the weird and wonderful Paul Foot, the 2012 Festival Program was officially unleashed, with Festival Programs to be released to the public tomorrow.

There are shows with quick-witted banjo numbers, singing that will make your ears cry with happiness, heart-stopping acrobatics, clever as pie sketch shows and shows with dancing. There is even a live silent film in the program. But what they all have in common is that they are jam-packed-full-to-the-brim with jokes jokes jokes.

Premier Ted Baillieu sent a postcard from India to the Festival saying, "Like all of us involved with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, over here they understand the benefits of having a good laugh – for mind, body and soul. If we have any time left at the end of our Trade Mission, I'll insist that the entire Victorian delegation joins me for a session, so that we're limbered up and ready for the Festival's opening on 28 March."

With over 400 events across 129 venues to get involved in, more than half a million festival fans are expected to descend on Melbourne city and its surrounds for the fun to see over 5000 performances.

A hit in last year's Festival, The Very Big Laugh Out, the Festival's free outdoor program funded by the Victorian Government will be on again at Fed Square, featuring the brightest and boldest international acts on the main stage and surrounds, completely free to the public.

Comedy nuts will be able to see their favourite Aussies such as Rod Quantock, Hannah Gadsby, Anyone For Tennis?, Justin Hamilton, Harley Breen, Celia Pacquola, Frank Woodley, Lawrence Mooney, Tom Ballard and more.

International comedy royalty will also be the guests of the Festival, with names like Tom Green, Wanda Sykes, Tim FitzHigham, David O'Doherty, Tim Key, The Pajama Men and Jimeon gracing our stages.

Melbourne Comedy Festival Director Susan Provan said, "Our favourite, well-established local comedians will bring us the fruit of their past year's work in new shows bound to please fans and the best international comedians we could find will land to present work that's been reaping acclaim in clubs, festivals and theatres on the other side of the world. As ever too, audiences will discover loads of new and exciting entertainers, completely fresh to the scene. We can't wait for the city to be buzzing with that Festival energy."

First launched by the late, great Peter cook in 1987, the Melbourne Comedy Festival has grown into one of Australia's most well-known and well-loved annual events. Starting out with just over 50 shows in 33 venues, the Festival has grown to gigantic proportions in its history and is now the launching pad for major national and international comedians.