With his ridiculously sculpted hairdo and constant stream of one liners that are silly, fantastical and mundane all in one, star British comedian Milton Jones inspires a special kind of laugh. It's one where you're not quite in stitches, or about to wet your pants, but where your giggle simmers along constantly. It's a lovely warming feeling.

It's not even that some of his pithy yarns - such as, "I went to Ireland once. They threw shamrocks at me. Turns out they were real rocks" - are all that funny. But it's his deadbeat and adorably drippy delivery that is genius.

And best of all was his account of seeing a "small dead baby ghost" on the side of the road. "Although, thinking about it, it could have been a handkerchief."

Though Jones was the most understated of the eight acts on the 5 Star Comedy Preview bill, which opened this year's NZ International Comedy Festival before last night's Gala, he was the star.


The preview was a chance for some of the festival's international performers to give a taste of what to expect over the next three weeks.

It was hosted by British funny man Dan Willis, who seemed a little nervous at first, but come the second half - and picking up on a particularly delicate female sexual taboo - was back on track.

Opening the show was a delightful young chap called Chris Martin. For obvious reasons his show at the festival is called No. Not That One and he reeled off relaxed observations about everything from how he blames his mum for his name ("You could have called me Ricky") to friends playing jokes on him (like swapping his mum's phone number for his girlfriend's in his contacts list).

For a change of pace and volume, hulking Canadian Craig Campbell strode out looking like a cross between Jesus and a grizzly bear with his opening line: "Jetlag's a bitch eh? I just took my morning dump 15 minutes ago." But it's when this crazed Canuck is having conversations with himself that he is at his most masterful.

Meanwhile, the most divisive comic of the night was Brendon Burns, whose set fell into the so-good-but-so-very-wrong category. The caustic yet devilishly clever and often leery Australian chap pushed the limits of decency, leaving many gawping in disbelief and visibly appalled. Job well done then.

Likable South African Stuart Taylor offered sage comic advice about making your own fun in tough economic times, like cheering yourself up by reading other people's discarded ATM receipts.

Then came cocky American Bill Dawes, who plays the stereotype of an obnoxious sexist Yank. Right from the start he was hitting on the ladies in the audience with the pitch: "I'm a chivalrous guy. I hold doors open for bitches."

Also during his brief time in New Zealand he had done his homework, referencing everything from Timtams and Smith and Caugheys to pumping iron at Les Mills.

The finale was Irish musical comedy group Dead Cat Bounce.

Not to sound too parochial, but because New Zealand has one of the best musical comedy acts around in Flight of the Conchords, the Irish trio's funny songs about farm animals and kayaking fell a little flat.