“I'VE went from fighting people to fighting for laughter.”

Former amateur mixed martial arts fighter, tattoo artist, and now comedian David McKinlay really has done it all.

The Glasgow comic, 45, is a member of Wholesome Prison Blues – a team of six who take their gigs to prisons around the country.

McKinlay, known as Tattoo Dave, is currently looking forward to his appearance at this year’s Glasgow Comedy Festival.

He spoke with The National about his love for comedy, what it’s like touring prisons, and how one chance event on a drive home led to his prison-touring idea.

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How did you get into comedy?

McKinlay has only been working in comedy for 10 months now although admits that he’s always enjoyed entertaining people, as his recently uncovered school reports suggest.

“All my reports which I found a couple of months ago from P1 all the way through, the theme was that I was the class clown and that I should focus more on my work," he said.

“I’ve kind of had the last laugh on that one I suppose. It was a running theme in every single report up to sixth year that I was acting up.”

Although he didn’t consider turning comedy into a career until he reached his mid-40s, McKinlay says it’s something he’s always been interested in, spending his youth looking up to iconic figures like Billy Connolly.

The National: David McKinlay performs his comedy gig in Scottish prisonsDavid McKinlay performs his comedy gig in Scottish prisons (Image: Tattoo Dave)

“I never had the bottle do it before. I’ve always thought I was funny although my wife would argue that case.”

He admits he “threw himself in at the deep end” when he applied for a new material night at The Stand in Glasgow.

“I turned up and did five minutes but didn’t realise there’s open mic nights you should go to before applying for clubs. I chucked myself in at the deep end but it was a good learning curve.”

‘Fighting people to fighting for laughter’

As well as running his own tattoo studio in Maryhill for nearly 18 years, McKinlay was previously involved in amateur MMA fighting.

“I’ve been a tattooist since my early 2020s. I recently gave up on the fighting because of my age.”

Although martial arts and comedy might not seem linked, the Glaswegian says his love of entertaining a crowd was likely where the two interests come together.

Bringing comedy to prisons

The Wholesome Prison Blues team is made up of six comics – McKinlay, Amanda Hursy, Eddy Mackenzie, Mikey Motion, Paddy Linton, and Jack Traynor.

During a drive home from the Edinburgh fringe, a certain song came on the radio which inspired McKinlay and his colleagues to start looking into potentially bringing their acts to prison.

He explained: “Me, Jack and Paddy were driving back from Edinburgh on the first day of the Fringe.

“We were exchanging war stories on how our early gigs went and Jack was joking that we should lock everyone in until we finish and create the ultimate captive audience.

“No word of a lie, Johnny Cash’s San Quentin prison song came on at that moment. We had a giggle and got an idea to do a gig in prison.”

It took a little while but McKinlay was able to reach out to some contacts in the Scottish Prison Service and their act has since snowballed.

Due to scheduling commitments, the six comedians haven’t been able to perform together quite yet but the gigs have gone over well.

Importance of rehabilitation

McKinlay explains that, “to his shame”, prior to entering prisons with his comedy he thought it was entirely “about punishment”.

“Everybody is proud of the rehabilitation work they’re doing. People when they leave are in a better and stronger position to be part of society than when they went in.

“The comedy shows is giving people a chance to see there are other experiences around them.

“I would say most have never been to a comedy short or a theatre show that we would take for granted.”

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In terms of material, he adds that the most important thing is to keep it as “relatable” as possible.

“We’ve heard stories of high-brow comedians doing political stuff and it not going well for them.”

Wholesome Prison Blues are set to play to a full house in HMS Barlinnie on March 31 and will be performing in the Basement Tennent’s Bar as part of the Glasgow Comedy Festival on Saturday April 1.