IT’S a year that many of us can’t wait to be over, but one South Gippsland local is determined to turn the tables on 2020 and finish on a high.
We caught up with Wonthaggi comedian Marcus Ryan, who is just one of many artists embracing that word ‘pivot’ after a year full of setbacks within the arts industry.

Sentinel: As a comedian, people normally rely on you to keep their spirits up in dark times, but you haven’t had much to laugh about.
Marcus: Our industry was the first to go and will likely be one of the last to fully recover, if it ever does. I remember performing a benefit gig in January to raise money for the bushfire in Gippsland, none of us thought the year could get worse. Then it did.

Sentinel: You’re normally working overseas; you must feel lucky to be ‘stuck’ at home.
Marcus: I was too devastated to feel lucky, I was performing in Adelaide the weekend Australia came to a halt. I was hanging out with artists from all over the world and the atmosphere was so strange. So many were frantically finding flights home while others were tossing a coin to stay on in Australia and chance being stranded. I had to make a dash for the border before Victorian restrictions began. I also found out that the Melbourne Comedy Festival was cancelled and that’s my biggest month of work for the year. I made it home to Wonthaggi thinking it’d be just a few weeks, fast forward eight months and here we are!

Sentinel: And you had a show in Wonthaggi planned too?
Marcus: That one really hurt, I’d worked so hard on it. I’m self-produced, no agent or promoters. I’d sold out the Wonthaggi Arts Centre and had added a second show. It was a dream come true for me to perform a big show like this in my hometown, so I was crushed. We were set to film my comedy special and pitch it to Netflix or whoever. It was pulled three weeks before going ahead, I was in shock. I still am to be honest.

Sentinel: Is it hard to stay motivated to be creative during lockdown?
Marcus: Like most artists, I sat around pondering my future. People kept saying it’ll be just another couple of weeks, but I knew we were in it for the long haul. International flights weren’t going to resume anytime soon and venues weren’t going to reopen in a hurry, the cruise industry had stopped, my industry had collapsed not just in Australia, but in all the other countries I make my living. So, I started doing some online gigs and filming sketches, but it’s just not the same as performing live. Nothing compares to it.

Sentinel: So, tell us about this van.
Marcus: I thought about escaping winter in Gippsland to travel around Australia, I figured if I can’t go back overseas or work, I may as well see the top end and write some new travel stories, then we were banned from leaving Victoria! So, I had to figure out a way to stay creative, use my skills and explore Victoria. And that’s where the idea came along. As the old saying goes, when life gives you lemons, buy a van and start a business!

Sentinel: What exactly is the new business?
Marcus: I figured while I was home I’d get to know Gippsland better. We have so many great new wineries & breweries opening up, not to mention all the fresh produce farms, art places and small towns that need our support after such a horrible year with the bushfires and pandemic. But after chatting with some friends, we realised there’s a lack of transport for locals and tourists, I’ve been self-employed for so long I figured this could be a fun and rewarding way to get back into the workforce. We might not be able to go overseas or interstate so much, so as things start to open up again, more people will be visiting our area and more locals will want to support local too. And they’ll need a way to get around. If I can help people explore our great region and see it at the same time it’s a win-win.

Sentinel:So, is this a comedy bus?
Marcus: Not quite! Although there is scope to do some kind of special shows, I’ve already got interest from other performers who want to collaborate so there’s some exciting opportunities to provide a unique experience, but for now it’s primarily for private hire for events. No doubt the odd wedding or airport transfer and of course this time of year there’s loads of Christmas work breakups happening and people just eager to be able to get back out and socialise, I’ve already got a bunch of bookings from word of mouth, it’s been quite overwhelming!

Sentinel: That’s impressive. Will you be hanging up the mic, so to speak?
Marcus: Not at all. Comedy is my first love and I’ll still be doing live shows when they come about, I have lots of creative projects bubbling away too. The good thing about this is I can choose my own hours or if I get a gig, there’s always someone else who can drive instead. It’s about the service, not so much about who is behind the wheel.

Sentinel: So, we’ll see you back on stage in Wonthaggi in 2021?
Marcus: I hope so. It’s the one that got away! But there’s so many factors at play, we’ll wait and see. I had so much support the first time round, so fingers crossed we can not only sell out one show, but two next time. I think we could all do with a laugh!

Sentinel: Staying positive I see… any advice for other artists?
Marcus: I went from filling a 400-seat theatre to trying to fill an 11-seat van! 2020 certainly hasn’t quite worked out how I’d planned, but I’m not going to sit around moping about it anymore. You have to learn to control the controllables and right now I can’t control venue restrictions or how long it’ll take before live performance can come back to how it once was, so it’s best to just get on with it. Life doesn’t wait, so you shouldn’t either.

Sentinel: Finally, ‘Chauffeur So Good’, what can people expect with a name like that?!
Marcus: Well first of all, I hope that they appreciate a good pun! Second of all, I’ve had many years’ experience in hospitality, tourism and travelling the world, I’ve dealt with some pretty dodgy tour guides and horrible bus journeys in my time, I want to combine that knowledge to provide a service that people can appreciate, enjoy and above all feel comfortable. This idea only came about last month, so I’m in the very early stages, but I’ll be tweaking the van to give it a bit more a VIP feel as things grow so people can follow that progress on my social media. I’ve built up a good relationship with many venues locally too who I’m excited to work with, so we’ll have suggested and planned itineraries as well and other fun ideas in the pipework with perks for locals too, so keep an eye out for the website coming soon!

If you want to book a transfer for a work breakup, functions of all sorts or plan a day out in Gippsland, contact hello@chauffeursogood.com.au or 0431 764 663.
If you’d like to book a comedian or MC for any event, contact Marcus Ryan www.itsmarcusryan.com or find him on social media @itsmarcusryan.