On Monday, call in sick from too much sushi. It works.

An arbitrator has let Jeremy Piven off the hook for his infamous sushi defense. Last winter, he bailed on the Broadway production of "Speed-the-Plow" in the middle of the run, claiming that his heavy sushi habit had led to mercury poisoning.

The ruling came partly because there was no reason to assume Piven's doctors, who provided the sushi-O.D. diagnosis, were incorrect. The show's producers weren't helped by the fact that they didn't examine Piven themselves, even when he was reportedly in the hospital for three days fighting off tuna-related toxins.

Piven had tried to get out of his contract earlier, but it was the sushi malady that finally did the trick.

The show limped on without Piven until its scheduled closing, using other, more seasoned actors (William H. Macy, Norbert Leo Butz) in his role. Piven's departure is said to have dented box office receipts, but now the producers, who aren't happy, have no hope of recouping those damages from the Entourage actor.

The Center for Consumer Freedom pointed out that if authenticated, Piven would be the first documented case of someone getting mercury poisoning from sushi sold in American restaurants or stores. The arbitrator didn't authenticate it, but said there wasn't enough evidence collected to rule it out.

Still, the Sushi Defense now has been shown to hold water, and it can get a person out of having to work.

The insanity that is caused by mercury poisoning -- it's what made Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter so mad -- may explain why Piven would make a dud like "The Goods," but for many, it was a lame excuse.

Playwright David Mamet zapped Piven with the quip of the year: "My understanding is that he's leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer."

Piven may not have to pay anything back, but he's paying in another way: Now he's branded as the fish guy, something the gossips can feed on.
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