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July 25, 2013 - Image 93

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-07-25

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obituaries

A Sweet, Stand-Up Guy

B

en Konstantin was a funny guy.
When he was a kid, he wrote
and illustrated his own comic
books and sold them to his elementary-
school friends. He "taught" his little
sister how to fly ("just wave your arms
like this and jump off the roof").
He whipped up freehand drawings
and impeccable caricatures on the spot
for anyone who asked — waitresses,
nephews, friends — who always wanted
more. He had nicknames for everyone.
He would do impersonations and
tell stories while barely maintaining a
straight face, cracking up at his own
genius.
But that's what he was loved for. It
was never ego; it was always passion.
His essence was both strength and
love, allowing the softness of life to
creep in while recycling it with the
resilience and vitality that let him shine
at it. He was awesome at living life.
For Ben, life began and ended with
a steadfast devotion to family and
friends. Perhaps that is why nearly
1,000 mourners filled Ira Kaufman
Chapel in Southfield on July 15, after
Ben's 10-month fight against pancreatic
cancer.
Ben Konstantin, 47, of West
Bloomfield, died July 13, 2013, just
one day before his first wedding anni-
versary with his beloved wife, Julie
Tracht Konstantin, with whom he had a
3-month-old daughter, Samantha Bette.
Eventually, Ben created a devoted
following as a stand-up comedian, but
his wit first emerged in the drawings
he created as a child growing up in Oak
Park — even in nursery school, says his
mom, Miriam Konstantin.
Ben overcame obstacles, including
Attention Deficit Disorder and vision
issues, with the devoted help of his
parents. "Ben was never defined by
them or even by the grace that he over-
came them with," says his sister, Lynne
Konstantin of West Bloomfield.
"He was defined by what he made for
himself and of himself. He loved super-
heroes and identified with the super-
human inside them, masked behind a
plain-Joe exterior?'
After graduating from Oak Park High
School, Ben headed to Michigan State
University, "where his life really began
to expand:' says his father, William
Konstantin. "Everyone wanted to be a
part of his life:'
When they were kids, remembers
Lynne, he always thought of his draw-
ing talent as something fun; he never
thought of it as a profession. But after

studying at MSU, Ben finished a degree
in fine art and painting at Wayne State
University. Realizing he could market
his talent, he earned a second bachelor's
degree in graphic communications
and commercial art at what is now the
College for Creative Studies in Detroit.
"Ben would work all night," says
William. "But he loved it. He always
had the aptitude, but
CCS taught him how
to apply it."
He then embarked
on an advertising
career that spanned
13 years and two
major Detroit agen-
cies. As an art direc-
tor, he had a new
talent come to the
surface: writing.
Ben enrolled in
an improv comedy
class at Mark Ridley's
Comedy Castle in
Royal Oak and began
to perform open mic
on a regular basis,
Ben Konstantin
says Ridley. "He was
always looking to
improve his writing, even just for seven
minutes. His unique perspective on life
made Ben a promising standup, and it
added up to a truly gifted writer."
Ben could take a snippet of life and
run with it. "He wrote about the noth-
ings of life — and made them into
something:' says his wife, Julie. "He
related the disappointments of the
Detroit Lions, who figured prominently
in his life, to a restaurant that gives
you food poisoning, but you keep going
back for more?'
Ben learned how to channel his real-
life magnetic energy on stage and, like
the best performers, make a connection
with every member of his audience.

Changes In Careers

With the economic downturn in 2009,
Ben was laid off from the ad agency and
jumped into comedy full time. Booking
gigs across the country, he received
accolades performing at Meadow Brook
Music Festival and DTE Energy Music
Theater, landed a cover story in the
Detroit Jewish News and won several
comedy contests, including "Robert
Klein and Five Guys from Detroit?' He
did voice-over work for television and
radio, had bit parts in made-in-Detroit
films — and relentlessly finessed his
work.
Finally, his mentors told him he was

ready for the big time. Planning to
move to either Los Angeles or New York
within weeks, Ben took a quick look
at his JDate account and one woman
caught his eye. Because of the nature
of JDate, she could see that Ben had
looked at her.
"I had just moved back to Michigan
from LA," says Julie. "I was in my mid-
30s. I had been
on a few bad
dates. I thought,
`OK, I'll be an
awesome auntie;
I'll have my dogs:
Then I saw that
Ben had looked at
my profile. And I
thought, 'He's too
cute — he can't
be nice:"
The pair cor-
responded for a
couple of weeks
before meeting;
and when they
did, they both
knew it was for
real.
"He was so
sweet, so sincere," says Julie. "I just
knew he was going to be my life:'
Ben knew, too. After spending years
preparing to try out comedy big time,
he knew he couldn't leave Detroit now.
He introduced Julie to his parents.
He arranged a dinner with his sis-
ter, "the character test:' he once said.
Walking out of Little Daddy's restaurant
with Julie ahead, Lynne turned to her
brother to give him a thumbs up.
"Ben leaned in, confidingly:' says
Lynne. "He whispered, 'Wait till you
meet her dog:"
Ben received the thumbs up from
Julie's family, too. "He had my heart
from the beginning," says Janice Tracht,
Julie's mom.
"Julie brought us to see him per-
form. I pinched my husband, Arnie,
and whispered, 'You better laugh:
Through the whole set, Arnie was
kicking me under the table and
mouthing, 'He's really funny!' He was
perfect for Julie."
Ben did finally move to New York,
with Julie by his side. He worked com-
edy gigs and voice-overs for a year, and
proposed in February 2012. Receiving
a job offer from the Tarrytown, N.Y.,
office of Team Detroit, an ad agency,
Ben continued to pursue comedy part
time while following his heart to a new
dream: a family. He started his new

job a month before he and Julie were
married, on July 14, 2012, and they
conceived their daughter on their hon-
eymoon.

A Brave Fight
Days after returning from the honey-
moon, Ben was hospitalized with pan-
creatitis, and it lingered. In September,
he was diagnosed with pancreatic can-
cer. He continued to live his life as he
always had, with tenacity, joy, humor
and love.
"Ben had entire communities of peo-
ple that adored him," Lynne says. "He
had his comedy people, his ad people,
his grade-school people. He was so
good at making friends — but his true
talent was keeping them and making
each one feel they were his best?'
Case in point: Within five days of
Ben's death, comedian Mike Stanley
rounded up a posse of comedians to
perform a free show to benefit oth-
ers through Ben's pancreatic-cancer
fundraising website. The night earned
almost $4,000, and the host hopes to
make it an annual event.
Another friend, comedian Jeff
Dwoskin, is already at work on another
benefit later in the year (look for details
at WeRememberBen.com ).
"When Ben got a little older, he
became my best friend," says his father,
William. The feeling was mutual, says
Ben's sister, Lynne. "Ben was born with
an acute moral compass. But it was
guided by our father's example:'
Ben had an extremely pure heart,
says Julie.
"He exuded a sense of morality:' she
says. "He was strong. He was funny.
He was creative. He was smart. He was
authentic.
"When I met him, it was like movie
magic. The heavens opened up:'
Ben Konstantin is survived by his
wife, Julie Tracht Konstantin; daughter,
Samantha Bette Konstantin; parents,
William and Miriam Konstantin;
and sister, Lynne (Jeffrey Hermann)
Konstantin. He was the son-in-law of
Janice and Arnold Tracht; brother-
in-law of Ryan (Debbie) Tracht and
Sari Tracht; and uncle of Charlie and
Annabel Hermann, and Emily, Noah
and Jessica Tracht.
Interment was at Clover Hill Park
Cemetery. Contributions may be made
to the National Pancreatic Cancer
Foundation's Benjamin Konstantin
Fund at WeRememberBen.com or (800)
859-6723. Arrangements were by Ira
Kaufman Chapel.



Obituaries on page 94

Obituaries

July 25 • 2013

93

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