You know when someone "jokes" about something that actually makes you deeply insecure, and you're forced to laugh it off because it would be awkward to do anything else? Imagine it happening for hours at a nationally televised award show, and that's basically Ricky Gervais's method of hosting the Golden Globes.

As a result, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is delighted to welcome him back for a fourth time to host the Golden Globe Awards. That's because even if Hollywood luminaries are secretly fuming in their seats as Gervais punctures their egos, the audience at home loves it. Who doesn't love rich and famous people being taken down a peg? This is Twitter's dream - and the HFPA hopes that Twitter can translate to more viewers.

Quiz: How well do you know your Golden Globes?

However, celebrities aren't always thrilled by Gervais' jabs, which generate big controversy. "I've never understood the controversy around the Golden Globes. That stuff I did, I was shocked that people thought that was shocking," Gervais recently complained to the Hollywood Reporter. "Genuinely. I thought, what have I said wrong? I didn't say anything outrageous or libelous ... it couldn't have been that bad."

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Some stars would beg to disagree. Since it's been awhile since Gervais hosted the show, here's why some people fear the British comedian more than your average host.

1. He loves to make fun of personal demons

Remember Robert Downey Jr.'s past in jail and rehab? Gervais wanted to make sure everyone did in 2011 when he brought Downey on stage to present an award. Downey was decidedly not amused. "Aside from the fact that it's been hugely mean-spirited with mildly sinister undertones, I'd say the vibe of the show is pretty good so far, wouldn't you?" Downey asked the crowd.

After all, that year's monologue had a particularly brutal stretch of jokes aimed at rumors about famous closeted Scientologists, and a segment mocking Charlie Sheen's substance abuse and naked-porn-star-in-the-closet incident. ("So what he did was, he picked up a porn star, paid her to have dinner with him ... went to a hotel, got drunk, got naked, trashed the place while she was locked in a cupboard, and that was a Monday. What does he do New Year's Eve?")

Not to mention his 2010 introductions for Mel Gibson (noting that he liked a drink as much as the next man "unless the next man is Mel Gibson") and his shots at other celebrity reputations: "One stereotype I hate is that all Irishmen are just drunk, swearing hell-raisers. Please welcome Colin Farrell!"

2. If your project failed, you're going to hear about it

Celebrities don't love hearing about their failures, but Gervais doesn't care about that. He'll happily rub salt in the wound, like the way he took great pleasure in skewering the failure of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie's flop The Tourist. "It seemed like everything this year was three-dimensional. Except the characters in The Tourist," Gervais said, adding, "I already feel bad about that joke." (He did not feel bad about implying the movie was nominated for bribes.)

Speaking of which, Gervais loves to bring up the fact that the Hollywood Foreign Press is often ridiculed for its choices and accused of bribery. In 2012, he explained that Boardwalk Empire was about "a load of immigrants who came to America about a hundred years ago, and got involved in bribery and corruption - and they worked their way up to high society. But enough about the Hollywood Foreign Press!"

3. Tumultuous relationships are all fair game

Gervais won't hesitate to throw in a barb about relationship drama - hey, he doesn't care if you get in a fight in the limo on the way home. Most notably, during his hosting gig in 2010, he referenced Paul McCartney's very expensive divorce ... while his new girlfriend sat right next to him in the crowd. ("I was worried about the Paul McCartney line," Gervais confessed later. "But then he came backstage and hugged me and said he loved it.")

But even if McCartney found it hilarious, something tells us that Bruce Willis wasn't thrilled to be called "Ashton Kutcher's dad," referencing ex-wife Demi Moore's new (at the time) husband.

Watch: Ricky Gervais's favourite award show targets

As Hollywood braces itself for another Golden Globes hosted by the controversial Ricky Gervais, here's a look back at some of his favourite targets from past award shows.

• We'll have all the action from the Golden Globes live on nzherald.co.nz from midday on Monday.