Let’s be clear: this isn’t a definitive list of the 10 best things to see at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

In its 30th year MICF will feature more than 500 shows by 2000 performers over 121 venues. Your eyes will probably glaze over by the time you reach page three of the dense event program.

We’ve left off the really big names, only because it’s likely we’d be telling you what you already know.

These 10 local and international acts are ones we reckon are worth taking a chance on this year if you like intelligent, incisive and, at times, totally surreal comedy. (Or, if hackneyed dick and fart jokes from ex/current radio hosts aren’t your thing).

Sam Simmons, Not a People Person (AUS)

Winner of Best Comedy Show at Edinburgh Fringe 2015 and Best Show at MICF 2015 are two pretty shiny badges for a comedian.

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His shows are a fireball of intelligent, fast-paced storytelling, sketch satire and razor-sharp observational humour that straddles the mundane and the absurd. It helps his cause that he looks like Mario, if Mario lived in Melbourne’s inner north and wore ironic glasses.

He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s certainly no one like him on the bill.

March 24 to April 3
Forum Theatre

Nish Kumar, Long word … Long word … Blah Blah Blah … I’m So Clever (UK)

Nish Kumar knows he’s a clever boy – so why not say so in his own event description?

The host of BBC Radio 4 Extra’s Newsjack returns to Australia with an energetic, intellectual show that toys with race and diversity, internet culture and political correctness in comedy.

March 24 to April 17
Melbourne Town Hall

Rhys Nicholson, Bona Fide (AUS)

With his signature thick-rimmed glasses, a jawline like a Cubist painting, and a skinny tie, Rhys Nicholson walks out looking like an exclamation point.

The anecdotes in his new show zero in on sexuality and relationships, and they are delivered with his ultra-dry, self-deprecating wit.

Nicholson is getting better every year – a good sign for his career considering he’s only 25.

March 24 to April 17
Melbourne Town Hall / Roxanne

Anne Edmonds, That’s Eddotainment (AUS)

If you haven’t seen Anne Edmonds before, go see Anne Edmonds. If you’ve seen Anne Edmonds before, go see Anne Edmonds.

Edmonds got into comedy relatively late, at 29 (when most comedians are packing it in), and has been furiously making up for lost time; she won the Piece of Wood Award at last year’s MICF and supported US comedian Marc Maron on his recent Australian tour.

Warm, charming and actually hilarious, her brand-new hour of stand-up promises a banjo, a jig and a lady claiming to be a pig.

March 24 to April 17
Melbourne Town Hall

Steen Raskopoulos, You Know the Drill (AUS)

After selling out shows at last year’s festival and collecting nominations for comedy awards at both MICF and Edinburgh, Steen Raskopolous is teetering on the cusp of being a household name, despite all the vowels there are to pronounce.

His past few shows have featured a mixed bag of musical sequences, totally oddball characters and some crowd participation, so maybe sit a few rows back if you don’t do well with a spotlight. If you want more check out his improv storytelling duo The Bear Pack, also on at the festival.

Fun trivia: Raskopolous is the younger brother of Jordan Raskopoulos from The Axis of Awesome.

March 24 to April 17
Melbourne Town Hall / Swiss Club

Aunty Donna, New Show (AUS)

Australia actually has a pretty good history of sketch comedy if you dig back far enough (Big Girl’s Blouse, Full Frontal), but many shows since have caused more cringing than smiles.

The numbers don’t lie – Ballarat comedy-sketch group Aunty Donna has proven itself to be properly funny with close to 100,000 YouTube subscribers on its channel.

Its sketches are relevant, tight, smart, surreal. A run of sell-out shows at Edinburgh Fringe makes a strong case for the group being able to do it on stage as well as they do in front of a camera.

March 24 to April 15
Roxanne / Melbourne Town Hall / Max Watt’s

Simon Munnery, And Nothing But (UK)

Simon Munnery has been around forever, but he’s kind of flown under the radar. Probably because of the tangential nature of his comedy – it makes it tricky to edit into a snacky YouTube clip.

It’s a bit like watching your dad do stand-up – if your dad has a whip-smart wit for wordplay and a tendency to go down an absurdist rabbit-hole in the middle of a story.

March 29 to April 17
Melbourne Town Hall

Sofie Hagen (DNK)

Hagen’s sweet Danish accent is a red herring. While she is hugely likeable she’s totally fearless when it comes to talking about body issues, mental health and feminism – but it’s so endearing and anecdotal it never feels preachy.

Expect a detour into her teenage obsession with boy bands, in particular when she was “a mini-celebrity on the Danish Westlife fan circuit”.

March 24 to April 17

Brian Lobel, Purge (UK)

In 2011 Brian Lobel played a brutal game of friendship evaluation. Over 50 hours of performance, over five days in cafes, he talked about each of his 1342 Facebook friends one by one. He then handed responsibility over to strangers – acting as the “jury” – and gave them one minute to decide whether to keep or delete. It was all real and final.

His subsequent live show, Purge, reflects on the experience and on the modern and sometimes lonely ways we experience “friendship”. It’s funny, emotional and relatable, and will leave you with plenty to think about.

Note: Purge is only in town for a super-short run of six shows.

March 30 to April 3
The Coopers Malthouse

Police Cops, Police Cops! (UK)

Our appetite for cop dramas is boundless. Even when the tropes are worn to the point of parody (how many times have we seen a young rookie following in the footsteps of a grizzled veteran who’s just a few weeks from retirement?), we just watch the parodies (Hot Fuzz, The Other Guys, 21 and 22 Jump Street) with equal fervour.

Now you can watch every buddy cop movie crammed into a 60-minute, three-man live show with Police Cops!, a fast-paced, surreal spoof on every ’70s, ’80s and ’90s cliché in the genre.

March 23 to April 17
The Kelvin Club

The 30th Melbourne International Comedy Festival is on now until April 17.